The National Science Foundation is putting the final touches on a major effort to pool government and industry resources to research the building of a high-speed "data superhighway" that would connect computers at university, industry and government centers.
If it comes together, the project would be an unusual teaming up of government and industry. The Bush administration has frowned upon efforts to pool private and public funds for commercial endeavors, such as high-definition television, but this effort would appear to be more directed toward basic research.
The first step of the new project, according to government and industry sources, will be the announcement within days of a roughly $16 million commitment by the NSF and a unit of the Pentagon, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The research work they will fund will be overseen by the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, a small Reston firm.
The project will also be backed by major communications and high-technology companies that will commit a still-unknown amount of resources of their own in the effort to explore how such a so-called data superhighway could be built and what it would be used for.
Already, thousands of scientists are linked together over a government-supported network, enabling them to share research and harness computing power at distant locations. But many scientists have complained that the existing system is not fast enough, in particular for sending images of such things as models of molecules and weather systems.
Last year, a group of federal agencies banded together in support of building a far faster network known as the National Research and Education Network, that by the end of the decade would speed information 1,000 times faster than today's rate, or roughly equivalent to 50,000 pages per second. A report, drafted by the Federal High Performance Computing Program, said that such high speed networks would be a cornerstone for boosting the country's competitiveness.
Research focused on building such a network, proponents say, is also a step toward a distant dream of "wiring the nation" so that homes and businesses could tap into vast electronic storehouses of information with minimal effort.
Separately, the NSF is planning to upgrade its existing data transmission network, known as NSFNet.