The High Performance Computing Act, which became law last December, provides a boost in federal funds to improve and integrate the confusing collection of computer networks used by scientists to transmit data and electronic mail. The ultimate goal is to create a high-speed national computer network, analogous to the interstate highway system, with a capacity to transmit data at one gigabit (1 billion bits) per second, a speed 700 times greater than today's system.

Such a system would provide enough data transfer capacity to allow supercomputers to effectively converse or for multimedia video conferencing to take place. Proponents argue that federal investment in high-speed networking for scientists will be a key to United States competitiveness in the information age.

The National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been designated the lead agencies to create, in collaboration with five other government agencies, the gigabit network, to...

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