ERIC Identifier: ED368324
Publication Date: 1993-12-00
Author: Bishop, Ann P.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information and Technology Syracuse NY.
The National Information Infrastructure: Policy Trends and
Issues. ERIC Digest.
The federal government's vision for the National Information Infrastructure
(NII) is driven in part by new advances in the development of computer hardware,
software, and networks. But it has also been influenced by a tremendous upsurge
in the use of existing capabilities. The Internet, a global matrix of thousands
of computer networks, is already allowing millions of people to browse for
information and communicate with each other electronically (Elmer-Dewitt, 1993).
Today's information infrastructure provides access to a growing array of
software and services for education, work, entertainment, and daily life; and
the richness of these resources grows as multimedia applications become more
As both the capabilities of technology and number of its users grow, the need
to set national policy directions for computer networking--including defining
the role of government in supplying financial, administrative, and R&D
support for the burgeoning infrastructure--has become increasingly apparent. The
potential of global networking to test the very fabric of society has also
become more evident, which may be why computer networks seem to have captured
the attention of everyone from senators to cartoonists this past year. At issue
are, among other things, multi-billion dollar investments and profits,
revolutionary changes in education and scholarly communication, and far-reaching
threats to personal freedom and privacy.
FROM THE NREN...
The High Performance Computing Act of 1991
(P.L. 102-194) established government support for the development of the
National Research and Education Network (NREN), which is designed to provide
researchers, educators, and students with links to computer and information
resources. Its chief aims are to foster U.S. leadership in high performance
computing and communications and to promote advances in science and industrial
productivity (Bishop, 1991). The expected broader benefits of the NREN are
secondary. For example, research and education benefits would eventually make
their way to a wider range of disciplines and lower educational levels. General
economic prosperity and national well-being would eventually be felt as the U.S.
strengthened its superior position in international high tech markets and made
rapid advances in science and engineering. Some attention is indeed given in the
HPC Act to the need to connect schools and libraries, provide NREN information
and training services to potential users, and take advantage of the potential of
the NREN to improve the dissemination of government information. Finally,
important policy issues needing attention are identified, such as intellectual
property protection, maintaining network security and privacy, and guiding the
transition to commercial use.
In the last two years, however, federal networking policy has changed
dramatically. Rapid commercialization of infrastructure and services, broader
social goals, greater focus on network users, and community level participation
through Internet connections are important new items on the policy agenda. This
new vision advocates a seamless mesh of high performance computing and
communications resources that would reach every U.S. community and enhance the
life of each and every citizen.
...TO THE NII
The proposed National Information
Infrastructure Act of 1993 (H.R. 1757), which passed the House on July 26, 1993
and has been introduced in the Senate as part of its proposed National
Competitiveness Act of 1993 (S. 4), amends the NREN portion of the High
Performance Computing Act of 1991 to more clearly define the government's
national networking program. While the earlier legislation emphasized
infrastructure R&D and deployment, H.R. 1757 focuses on the development of
applications and training to make sure that the network infrastructure is put to
good use. It states that the network should "directly benefit all Americans,"
provide "large economic and social benefits," and be "designed to be accessible
and usable by all, including historically underserved populations and
individuals with disabilities, in the fields of education, libraries, health
care, the provision of government information, and other appropriate fields."
The proposed NII Act contains a number of important provisions to help
accomplish these broader goals (see American Library Association, 1993, for a
brief summary of NII legislation and hearings). It directs federal agencies to
develop specific plans for supplying the financial assistance that public
libraries, educational institutions and others will need in order to gain access
to the Internet. It adds a new Title III that establishes programs for the
development of network applications as well as access and training programs.
Emphasis on broad public use is clear: NSF is authorized to help create
community networks to link local libraries, schools, and government
organizations to each other and to the global Internet; K-12 schools are a
primary target for the development of educational applications and network
training materials; online health information is to be made available through
public libraries; an Internet-accessible federal information locator system that
would greatly improve public access to government information is to be
established; and training programs for librarians are to be developed so that
they can instruct the public in Internet access and use.
The new bill also places increased emphasis on mechanisms designed to assure
that the broad social goals of the NII are met. Mandated are assessments of
agency network programs, as well as research related to understanding the
long-range social and ethical implications of the NII. Finally, the bill
establishes a high-level advisory committee comprised of representatives of the
research, education, and library communities; consumer and public interest
groups; and the technology and information industries.
In September, the Clinton administration released a statement elaborating its
NII agenda. Its objectives with regard to the NII are to (Executive Office of
the President, 1993, Tab A, [p.1-2]):
Promote private sector investment
Extend the concept of universal service to ensure that information resources are
available to all people at affordable prices
Act as a catalyst to promote technological innovation and new applications
Promote seamless, interactive, user-driven operation of the network
Ensure information security and network reliability
Improve management of the radio frequency spectrum
Protect intellectual property rights
Coordinate with other levels of government and with other nations
Provide access to government information and improve government procurement.
These objectives are to be achieved not only through government investments
but through the reform of relevant regulations and policies. Included in the NII
vision is civic networking to serve the public interest, as well as a kind of
consumer's paradise in which you could "see the latest movies, play the hottest
video games, or bank and shop from the comfort of your home whenever you chose"
(Tab B, [p. 1]).
PUBLIC POLICY ISSUES
The government is not alone in seeking
to broaden the goals and uses of the NII. Public interest groups and individual
commentators espouse a similar ideal of inclusiveness and diversity. In
addition, they have maintained pressure on policymakers to ensure that the NII
vision upholds the public interest. Debate has focused on the regulation of the
telecommunications industry and the role of the government in infrastructure
development and service provision, as well as on defining the basic goals for
the NII that will drive policy formulation (Computer Professionals for Social
Responsibility, 1993; Kapor, 1993; Lerner, 1993; NREN, 1993; Peters, 1993;
Weingarten, 1993). Winner (1993, p. B3) offers eloquent advice on the need to
consider the broader social impacts of the NII. He suggests that "[t]he
discussion should focus not only on technical features and economic payoffs, but
also on aspects of social organization and long-term consequences for the
quality of public life." The Center for Civic Networking (1993, draft) has been
especially vocal in its call for a "rigorous agenda of accountability and
thorough research" so that NII policy is not formed in a vacuum. It argues that
each government NII initiative "include formative criteria and reporting
requirements which can provide ongoing data on individual use of networked
information, demographics of served populations, affective change and other
information useful to benchmarking public interest goals and to the research
community" ([p. 5]).
The Telecommunications Policy Roundtable, a group of over 70 non-profit
organizations, has formed to urge NII policymakers to give adequate attention to
the public interest. They have set forth seven principles for national
networking that include: free access to information; freedom of speech and
privacy protection for network users; a vital civic-sector component analogous
to an "electronic commons" for public discussion; a healthy marketplace of ideas
that is not controlled by telecommunications carriers; enhancing workplace
equity and quality; and full public involvement in NII policymaking (DeLoughry,
1993, p. A23).
As noted at the beginning of this Digest, the problems and benefits of a
national information infrastructure seem to be upon us right now. The benefits
of networking for libraries and K-12 education are already in evidence (Leslie,
1993; McClure, Moen, & Ryan, 1994; Tinker & Kapisovsky, 1992). Community
networks, such as the Blacksburg Electronic Village (Wiencko, 1993) and
CapAccess in Washington, DC (Walsh, 1993) provide working models of real
capabilities and of attempts to merge public and private sector interests.
KEEPING UP WITH THE ACTION
For those interested in keeping
up with NII developments and issues, there are organizations whose publications
and conferences are especially valuable. These include the Coalition for
Networked Information, EDUCOM, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility,
Harvard's Information Infrastructure Project, the Center for Civic Networking,
the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Taxpayer Assets Project, which was
established by Ralph Nader. The information servers established by these
organizations (as well as those of specific government agencies) house many
useful documents and announcements that are accessible through gopher and ftp.
Interesting, timely, and free online news related to developments in national
networking is available by subscribing to electronic mailing lists such as:
ALAWON, the American Library Association's Washington Office newsline; TAP-INFO,
from the Taxpayer Assets Project; Edupage, from EDUCOM; CPSR Alert from Computer
Professionals for Social Responsibility; and EFFector Online from the Electronic
Frontier Foundation. (To subscribe, see below.)
READINGS AND REFERENCES
American Library Association (1993,
June 7). ALA WASHINGTON NEWSLETTER (ALAWON), 45(6), 2-7. To subscribe, e-mail
the message "subscribe ala-wo [your name] to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bishop, Ann P. (1991, Dec.). THE NATIONAL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION NETWORK
(NREN): UPDATE 1991. ERIC DIGEST. EDO-IR-91-9. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Information Resources.
Center for Civic Networking (1993, draft). A VISION OF CHANGE: CIVIC PROMISE OF THE NATIONAL INFORMATION INFRASTRUCTURE, A PUBLIC INTEREST AGENDA. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. Electronic manuscript.
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. CPSR ALERT. To subscribe,
e-mail the message "subscribe cpsr [your name]" to email@example.com.
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. (1993). SERVING THE COMMUNITY: A PUBLIC-INTEREST VISION OF THE NATIONAL INFORMATION INFRASTRUCTURE. (Available by FTP at cpsr.org, path cpsr, file
cpsr[underscore]nii[underscore]policy.txt; or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org,
message get cpsrnii[underscore]policy.)
DeLoughry, Thomas J. (1993, Nov. 3). Guaranteeing access to the data highway:
71 groups plan campaign to make sure it serves the public interest. THE
CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, 40(11), A23.
EDUCOM.EDUPAGE. To subscribe, e-mail the message "subscribe edupage [your
name]" to email@example.com.
Electronic Frontier Foundation. EFFector Online. To subscribe, e-mail a
request to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Elmer-Dewitt, Philip. (1993, Dec. 6). First nation in Cyberspace. TIME,
Executive Office of the President. (1993, Sept. 15). THE NATIONAL INFORMATION
INFRASTRUCTURE: AGENDA FOR ACTION. Washington, DC: The White House. (Available
by FTP at ftp.ntia.doc.gov, file niiagenda.asc; by gopher at gopher.nist.gov.)
Kahin, Brian. (1993, July 19). INFORMATION INFRASTRUCTURE SOURCEBOOK. Version
1.1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Information Infrastructure Project.
Kahin, Brian. (Ed.). (1992). BUILDING INFORMATION INFRASTRUCTURE. NY: McGraw
Kapor, Mitchell. (1993, July/Aug.). WHERE IS THE DIGITAL HIGHWAY REALLY HEADING?: THE CASE FOR A JEFFERSONIAN INFORMATION POLICY. Wired, 1(3), 53-59, 94.
Lerner, Eric J. (1993, Nov./Dec.). 500 channels: Wasteland or wonderland?
EDUCOM REVIEW, 28(6), 26-33.
Leslie, Jacques. (1993, Nov.). Connecting kids. WIRED, 1(5), 90-93.
McClure, Charles R., Moen, William E., & Ryan, Joe. (1994). LIBRARIES AND THE INTERNET/NREN: PERSPECTIVES, ISSUES, CHALLENGES. Westport, CT: Meckler.
NREN and the National Information Infrastructure--competing visions?: A panel
discussion. (Sept./Oct. 1993). EDUCOM REVIEW, 28(5), 50-53.
Peters, Paul Evan (1994, in press). Progress toward and prospects for a
global digital information infrastructure in support of research and education.
In Ann P. Bishop (Ed.). EMERGING COMMUNITIES: INTEGRATING NETWORKED INFORMATION INTO LIBRARY SERVICES. PROCEEDINGS OF THE 30TH ANNUAL CLINIC ON LIBRARY APPLICATIONS OF DATA PROCESSING. Champaign, Illinois, April 4-6, 1993. Urbana, IL: GSLIS.
Taxpayer Assets Project. TAP-INFO. To subscribe, e-mail the message
"subscribe tap-info [your name]" to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tinker, Robert F. & Kapisovsky, Peggy M. (1992). PROSPECTS FOR
EDUCATIONAL TELECOMPUTING: SELECTED READINGS. Cambridge, MA: Technical Education
Weingarten, Fred W. (1993, Fall). NREN and the national infrastructure: A
personal vision. INTERNET RESEARCH: ELECTRONIC NETWORKING APPLICATIONS AND
POLICY, 3(3), 2-7.
Wiencko, Joseph A., Jr. (1993, Summer). The Blacksburg Electronic Village.
INTERNET RESEARCH: ELECTRONIC NETWORKING APPLICATIONS AND POLICY, 3(2), 31-40.
Walsh, R. Taylor. (1993, Summer). Development of a community information
service: The National Capital Area Public Access Network (CapAccess)--A work in
progress. INTERNET RESEARCH: ELECTRONIC NETWORKING APPLICATIONS AND POLICY,
Winner, Langdon. (1993, Aug. 4). How technology reweaves the fabric of
society. THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, 39(48), B1-B3.