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Building a National Knowledge Infrastructure

Unlike the United States — where private interests have walled off and Balkanized
much of the Internet — the Dutch are committed to collaboration both inside and outside the country. They have been a proactive force for international collaboration with scientists and network specialists in the EU, the United States and elsewhere with their Global Lambda In- tegrated Facility or GLIF.


And the more you learn, the more it is apparent that the Netherlands is building the electronic network and knowledge infrastructure on which the economy of the 21st century will be based. This report will explain their continuing technology direction -- a direction that on its own level is quite impressive.


So why is this happening in a country of only 17 million people, small and crowded with one of the highest popu- lation densities in the world? Why is this not happening in the United States or Canada or China or Brazil? Those are all big countries, rich in re- sources, that are supposed to “own the future.” This is an important question.


We can begin with what any- body who has worked in technology knows. The real problems with technology are not, typically, the technology. The real problems have to do with intentions, models, gov- ernance, implementation, re- sourcing, and user support. It’s not the technology, it’s what you do with it. And that, in turn, depends upon what you have intended to do with the technology.


So when we ask the ques- tion, why are the Dutch doing it right, when so many other countries got it wrong, the answer begins with the fact that they have better inten- tions and a more inclusive process. In demonstrating admirably farsighted planning and negotiated discussion among their stakeholders, the Dutch are leading the world in making the ICT technology transition.

This is the change described by Carlota Perez that is common to all technology revolutions.    Speculative or finance capital in the support and development of ICT must no longer predominate.    So- ciety must shift to use of productive capital.    In other words it must use money for infrastructure to install these ICT resources in society and treat them as knowledge in- frastructure. They become the logical follow on to roads and highways, canals, rail- roads, electric grids, airports water and sewage systems and electric plants. In the end they are simply an inte- gral part of the basic infra- structure of an advanced and civilized capitalist nation.


So, once again, it is not the technology so much as it is the thoughtful and careful way that technology policy is determined. It is the way that policy is turned into reality. And it is the way in which they continue to push edges in a never ending pursuit of technical excellence and ex- treme performance. And it is the counter-intuitive strategy in which geek values of open source software and collabo- rative networks are harvested into creating public/private partnerships that evolve into the business opportunities and a dynamic and competi- tive national economy.

John Hagel and John Seely Brown recently updated their sobering 2009 Shift Index: Measuring the forces of long- term change, which reveals that in the U.S., despite an economic focus on private good rather than public good, American businesses, includ- ing telcos, now earn 75% less return on assets    than they did in 1965. One of the reasons, according to John Hagel, speaking at the 2009 SuperNova Conference in San Francisco, is that businesses have not been able to ration- alize the disruptive advances in technology which (thank you, Moore’s Law) never stop advancing.

The severity of events is made more difficult because of the doctrine that the inde- pendence of the private car- rier is sacrosanct. The prob- lem is that the direction of technology has been moving ever more rapidly into the creation of network capability of almost limitless abun- dance.    In contrast to this technology push, the invest- ment pull of the rules by which the share owner Cor- poration is governed de- mands that management take the opposite course and establish a regime based on scarcity - measured usage, constricted bandwidth, con- stricted user freedom and charging the user the very maximum that traffic will bear.    The privatized carrier becomes a predator that feeds on society that in the- ory it serves. The result is an enormous gap between the technological capabilities at- tainable with state-of-the-art optical network technology and the reality enforced by share owner networks in their respective societies.


In the Netherlands, the ICT infrastructure ecosystem does have a strategy. It works for them. And it works for us. And that is to embrace those disruptive advances and use the improved pro- ductivity for the public good.
The COOK Report contends that the Netherlands, through the good fortune of rather unique circumstances over the past decade, has been able to articulate a vision whereby it begins to treat its information and communica- tion technology investment as an investment in public infrastructure rather than pri- vate share owner determined enterprise.    The nation tele- communications infrastruc- ture is treated as a public rather than a private good. Partly this is for the purposes of science and research. But it has allowed the country to develop world leading tech- nology that operates along- side the share owner main- tained voice network of KPN as well as those of the MSOs (Cable TV companies) of the Netherlands.


In trying to understand the emergence of the Nether- lands as a leader in ICT infra- structure, again, this is not just about network technol- ogy or the network applica- tions.    Rather the key lesson to take away is that the Dutch network and research effort has been built by means of an exceptional at- tention paid to the economic impact of the network as in- frastructure that contributes to the Dutch national interest.


And beyond that is another parallel story. It’s the story of how history and economic circumstance shaped the character and confidence of the Dutch. It tells what can happen when a nation, toughened by centuries of challenges that would (liter- ally) sink most countries, learn how to work together to leverage technology at the infrastructure level and over- come impossible odds. It’s a great story, and it starts in Chapter II.

Contents

I. How the Dutch Did It Right

When so many others get it wrong p. 1

 

II. The Netherlands National ICT Research Infrastructure

History, character, policy and pragmatism p. 5

 

iii. The Direction of ICT Infrastructure in the Netherlands in Early 2010 An interview with Wim Liebrand, Kees Neggers and

Cees de Laat p. 24

 

IV. TheAscent of e-Science

Promise of the 4th paradigm p. 41

 

V. Making E-science Work: The Middleware Solution

An interview with Bob Hertzberger p. 44

 

VI. Growing E-Science Domains for The Netherlands

Roadmap for a next generation of science p. 64

 

VII. Potential Customers with Global Agendas

An interview with David Zakim, MD p. 68

 

VIII. How A Progressive ICT Infrastructure Benefits the Economy

The innovation engine as open fabric p. 78

 

iX. SURF as an Economic “Midwife” for Technology Transfer

An interview with Hans Dijkman, Kees Neggers and Bob Hertzberger p. 85

 

X.Coming to Conclusions

Realizing the benefits of a re-usable infrastructure p. 91

 

XI. Re-thinking American Infrastructure

What has to change p. 95