Several months ago, McKinsey did a very interesting study on the economic value of the Internet. It pointed out that the Internet "industry" is now bigger than agriculture or energy in G8 countries. The Internet represents 3.4 percent of GDP and accounted for 21 percent of GDP growth over the last five years in Brazil, China, India, South Korea, and Sweden -- where, as Vint Cerf pointed out in a blog of his own, the Internet also created 2.6 jobs for every one lost.
In light of all this, 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.
Sure, 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, from pure research initiatives, such as GENI
and FIRE, to production facilities that 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. A landmark study undertaken by University of Toronto researchers showed that the adoption and growth of the commercial Internet was driven in its early stages by recently graduated students who had been exposed to the benefits of the Internet at their respective universities and community colleges.
There are many viewpoints on what is the role and purpose of NRENs. 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 e-science and the demands of big data flows from instruments and high performance computing. Still others advocate that NRENs should be the backbone of all public sector service delivery, such as education, healthcare, and government services.
While all these roles are very important for NRENs, it is my belief these none of them 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 and start their careers.
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 and applications in all sectors and industries. Countries that expose students to the latest Internet innovation and are comfortable collaborating and working on the future of the Internet will reap the rewards of a stronger economy and greater job growth.
— Bill St. Arnaud, telecommunications analyst and frequent speaker on the future of the Internet and broadband