The NSF and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been the two primary sources of federal telecommunications R&D support. NSF, long a supporter of telecommunications R&D spanning a range of topics, has recently been increasing its attention to telecommunications R&D, with an emerging emphasis on new approaches to networking. DARPA, which funded a number of important telecommunications advances in the past (including elements of the Internet itself), has been shifting its emphasis toward more immediate military needs and giving less attention to long-term telecommunications research.
A strong, effective telecommunications R&D program for the United States will require a greater role for government-sponsored and university research, and more funding of long-term research by industry. The committee recommends that the federal government establish a new research organization — the Advanced Telecommunications Research Activity (ATRA) - to stimulate and coordinate research across industry, academia, and government. ATRA would be a hybrid of activities of the sort historically associated with DARPA (which through the ARPANET program managed a research portfolio, developed a vision, and convened industry and academia to build what would become the Internet) and SEMATECH (which brought the semiconductor industry together, initially with some federal support to complement industry dollars, to fund joint research, development, and roadmapping activities). There are a number of options for where within the federal government such a program could fit, each with its own set of tradeoffs (see Chapter 4). For example, ATRA's proposed mission would align with that of existing agencies within the Department of Commerce, and NSF has developed mechanisms for joint academic-industry engineering research, albeit more focused and on a smaller scale.
The committee also recommends that all segments of the US telecommunications industry increase their support for fundamental research, possibly taking advantage of the avenue provided by participation in joint, cooperative research activities organized by ATRA. Indeed, industry should provide a significant fraction of total R&D funding for ATRA, which would
support researchers from academia and industry and provide industry with a way to pool funds, spread risk, and share beneficial results.
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