E Life In A Far Faster Lane

November 27, 2002
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LANSING — If state officials have anything to say about it, the second coming of the Internet will happen in Michigan.

Building the faster and broader Internet2 is the real — and virtual — mission of the new Michigan Information Technology Center (MITC) in Ann Arbor.

The building, which should be open this time next year, will be home to Merit Network Inc., one of the state's leading providers of advanced Internet services and a key player in streamlining the next generation of express lane communications.

The nonprofit University Corp. for Advanced Internet Development will share space with Merit in the 100,000-square-foot MITC and will also have a vital role in paving the superior high-tech highway.

"Through the LinkMichigan Initiative, Michigan is well on its way toward extending the reach of high-speed Internet access throughout the state," said Gov. John Engler.

"The Michigan Information Technology Center will continue Michigan's leadership in information technology development, which will make that access even more important and valuable for users," added Engler, who leaves office in January.

The drive to build Internet2 is being funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. through an endowment worth $10 million — money that outgoing MEDC President and CEO Doug Rothwell felt was well invested.

"Michigan owns a leadership role in the advancement of the Internet, and the MITC will further that leadership as the next generation of Internet technology is created," he said.

That claim by Rothwell is important to Michigan, as the state jockeys for position in the lucrative chase to be first across the finish line in the next IT race.

Why?

Because the MEDC maintains that the state played a bigger role in creating Internet1 than Silicon Valley or even Al Gore did — but didn't get the recognition or reward it deserved for doing so.

Mark Morante, MEDC vice president of finance and business advocacy, told the Business Journal that today's Internet was actually concocted by a bunch of Wolverines.

"It was invented here in Michigan, pretty much by folks at the University of Michigan and the predecessors of Merit. Unfortunately, a lot of it wound up migrating to the coast over a period of years and they got most of the economic development bang," said Morante.

"The first and foremost thing that we want to accomplish is to cement Internet2 here in Michigan," he added.

Morante said the MITC will not only be a physical presence for IT commerce in the state, but will also promote Michigan by re-telling how the Internet was founded here.

On the business side, the MITC will offer short-term incubator, office and lab space — about 10,000 square feet worth — to firms working on projects with Merit or the university group.

The touting will be done through an Internet Hall of Fame located within the MITC, along with a high-speed Internet portal to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. Both are expected to impress and inspire the next generation of would-be ITers in order to keep their creative talents in the state.

"This will be a bridge between the past and the pioneers of the Internet, and the future pioneers of the new Internet that, hopefully, Michigan will play a major role in," said Morante.

The best guess is that Internet2 will be up and running within two decades. How much faster and broader it will be than the first version isn't known yet, but the word "lots" works well for now. And the plan is not to commercialize the second coming — meaning no sites like E-bay or MSN on it and no blinking banner ads that pop up when someone shuts down.

The idea is to restrict access to the Deuce to serious travelers only, such as a renowned surgeon directing a difficult procedure in Lansing while he sits in his Moscow office. How? By charging a boarding fee. The amount hasn't been set yet, of course, but it will likely be high enough to discourage solicitors. After all, selling is what the current Internet does.

"This Internet2 is really sort of going back to the roots: folks who need very high band-speed and great bandwidth in order to do transfers of information," said Morante.

"We always call the Internet 'the super highway', but this is really the super highway. This thing is getting into OC3 lines to do virtual conferencing throughout the world," he added.

"It's almost a little bit like watching 'Star Trek' and asking to be beamed-up, but someone won't need to be beamed up."

It's hoped that the boarding fees will account for enough operating revenue to maintain the new Net once the fast lanes open. In the meantime, the MEDC feels that its $10 million endowment, and the way it's structured, will be enough to get Internet2 up to speed.

"In terms of celebrating Michigan's place in history here and inspiring our youth, this should be a 20-year project," said Morante, "because we want this to span generations and lead Michigan youth into the digital decade."

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