A point at which sections of the Internet’s high-speed backbone are connected. Internet service providers (ISPs) are connected at Network Access Points (NAPs) so that they can exchange packets.
The backbone of the Internet actually consists of sections of high-speed fiber-optic cabling that are owned by different carriers (including AT&T, Sprint, and MCI WorldCom). NAPs are places at which these carriers interconnect their lines so that the Internet can function as a single entity. NAPs contain high-speed switching facilities for transferring traffic from one carrier’s lines to another’s.
The National Science Foundation originally established four different NAPs in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., but with the growth of the Internet and the changing landscape of telecommunication carrier companies, more NAPs have been created. These include “MAE West” in San Jose and “MAE East” in Washington, D.C., both of which are operated by MCI WorldCom.
To lessen the traffic burden on the Internet’s backbone, major ISPs can connect their services directly to a NAP in the form of a “peering arrangement,” whereby traffic that needs to move between two ISPs connected to the same NAP can move directly from one ISP to the other instead of having to traverse the Internet’s backbone.