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Internet Bigger Than Agriculture or Energy Sectors - Importance of R&E Networks

Bill St. Arnaud

Several months ago McKinsey did a very interesting study on the economic value of the Internet. They pointed out that Internet in the G8 countries as well as Brazil, China, India, South Korea, and Sweden is now bigger than agriculture or energy. The Internet represents 3.4% of GDP and accounted for 21 percent of GDP growth over the last five years among these developed countries and as Vint Cerf pointed out in his blog created 2.6 jobs for every one lost.

It is interesting to note that many governments have a variety of research and financial support programs for agriculture, energy and other sectors, but they hardly spend any R&D money on the greatest job engine in the economy — the Internet. There are some funding programs and research initiatives in telecoms, computation and related fields. But R&D support for future Internet specifically is very small in comparison. Given the importance of the Internet to our future economy and job creation one would think governments should make more than a token investment in this field.

The future Internet spans a number of activities including pure research initiatives such as GENI and FIRE, to production facilities which involve deployment of working networks. The deployment of real working, next generation Internet networks with an early adopter community to my mind is probably the most important of all these activities. This is where National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) play a critical role.

This is how the early Internet started. In a landmark study undertaken by University of Toronto researchers showed that the adoption and growth of the commercial Internet was driven in early stages by recently graduated students who had been exposed to the benefits of the Internet at their respective universities and community colleges. (see: "The (Teaching) Role of Universities in the Diffusion of the Internet”)

There are many viewpoints on what is the role and purpose of R&E networks. Some feel that they should be simple aggregators of traffic and deliver the lowest cost possible Internet service to the research and education community. Others believe that NRENS should focus on supporting eScience and the demands of big data flows from instruments and high performance computing. While others advocate that NRENs should be the backbone of all public sector service delivery such as education, healthcare and government services. While all these are very important roles for NRENs it is my belief that none of these roles should be considered an end objective in their own right. In my opinion, the most important role for NRENs is to lay down the foundation for development of the most important sector of the economy — the future Internet — by deploying advanced networks and services for the most demanding and largest early adopter community in the world — the research and education sector. Exposing researchers and most importantly, students to innovative applications, unconstrained bandwidth, new wireless services, open data, digital collections, federated identity, clouds, green IT, etc. will give them the insight to take this experience to the outside world when they graduate.

The biggest transfer of knowledge between academia and society is not through science journals. Nor is it through patents or commercializing of academic research. The biggest transfer of knowledge between academia and industry and society occurs once a year at graduation. The future economy is increasingly going to be based on Internet services applications in all sectors whether it is the resource, manufacturing or the service industries. Countries that expose students to the latest Internet innovation and who are comfortable in the collaborating and working in a future virtual world of the Internet will reap the rewards of a stronger economy and greater job growth.

By Bill St. Arnaud , Green IT Networking Consultant
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