November 2, 2006 10:58 AM PST
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Alvarado, 33, is founding director of the Institute for Next Generation Internet at San Francisco State University. The project aims to build commercial applications for high-speed fiber networks, which can be 500 to 600 times faster than standard broadband. He's also founder of the Digital Sister Cities Initiative, a program to connect cities around the world with the goal of promoting economic development through advanced technologies and those high-speed fiber networks.
From his background as a graduate of the UCLA film school, it's not obvious how Alvarado might have come to these roles. But to hear him tell it, his epiphany came while he was a starving indie filmmaker in the early '90s, toting a "lowball, flea-market mentality and high moral standards." Technology and high-speed networks, he thought, were the future means to ensure that alternative filmmakers would be able to produce art and distribute it inexpensively.
Fast-forward to present day and Alvarado is busy proselytizing fiber networks--or the next-generation Internet, as it's called--for business and community advancement. In California, that means using the high-speed fiber network run for educational purposes by CENIC, or the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California. He's also busy rallying digital sister agreements from cities, including Paris, Shanghai and Amsterdam.
(Not to neglect his filmmaking, he also just finished directing "Silent Cross," a documentary about immigration over the Mexico-California border.)
CNET News.com recently caught up with Alvarado to discuss his projects.
Q: Why did you start the Digital Sister Cities project and what does it mean to be a sister city?
Alvarado: Last November, San Francisco State University and the institute I run, the Institute for Next Generation Internet, (had) been working with Mayor Gavin Newsom's office on projects that allow the city, the university and partners to engage on some of the big issues, like globalization and how it's impacting the digital media sector.
Rather than put our heads in the sand, we're trying to figure out ways to engage the global community around collaborating, building productive relationships and sharing some of the values we hope to happen over the next generation.
So we created the Digital Sister Cities Initiative to create bilateral agreements between San Francisco and governments around the world that focus on four things: community-to-community relationships; company-to-company partnerships, especially in the digital media sector; research partnerships, or linking university researchers around the world in co-development of technologies. Fourth is open access to really high-speed networks.
Can you elaborate on the high-speed networks?
Alvarado: On the research side, we've been doing a lot of work with dedicated light paths over fiber to create this new architecture for the Web. And it's based on user-controlled light paths, so we can create dedicated point-to-point wavelengths at 10 gigabits per second between you and me in San Francisco, or out to Paris or to Dublin.
What we're doing is creating a virtual private network that's point-to-point. We want to (promote) this as the next architecture that's going to expand the capacity of our infrastructure; then second, get people using any amount of it.
So we're trying to encourage government and industry to work together by whatever means is appropriate in the local environment, and let companies, community organizations and universities get onto this next-generation Internet.What progress have you made since you've founded the Digital Sister Cities Initiative?
Alvarado: In the case of Ireland, for example, Dublin is building a Digital Hub around the old Guinness plant that will be this incubation space for research and development and community organizations. Slowly they've grown this indigenous consortium of Irish companies and researchers. This fall, it's opening in stages.
We saw that (the) project is like the Mayor's Digital Media Advisory Council here in San Francisco. And those two things partner really well.
Same thing in Paris. They have what's known as Cap Digital, which is their big digital-media cluster development. They have companies and universities already engaged, so we said let's build a linkage between that and the Mayor's Media Advisory Council, as well as the universities and companies involved. We've done a lot of connecting the dots.What kinds of applications or projects can we expect from these partnerships?
Alvarado: The real specific project is the Digital Sister Cities lab, which Mike Mages is designing. He was lead on Final Cut Pro at Apple for years.
He's proposed a tool, which we've dubbed Sebastian, which would serve as a next-generation browser environment for media collaboration. It would configure the network for you; it would give you a real-time uncompressed environment to comment and review (video and film clips) on.
Animation and film production houses in San Francisco and other cities have agreed to participate in being the guinea pigs for their workflow around it. And we're just trying to solve the problem of giving people a tool that turns on the next-generation Internet without having NTP be your partner.Which San Francisco companies have signed on?
Alvarado: Before we did DSC, we worked with Mayor Newsom's office on the Digital Media Advisory Council (DMAC), (a government-industry consortium designed to promote San Francisco as the new "digital Hollywood") with 20 or so representatives from companies including Lucasfilm and Baycat.
(Editor's note: Other DMAC members are from Dolby Laboratories, Fuji Xerox Palo Alto Lab, Wild Brain, Skywalker Sound, CalIT2, LucasArts and ILM.)