National information infrastructure


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The "Policy" View

The idea of “designing” the NII stems from a strong bias on the part of the Clinton Administration leadership that the government can and should play a key role in shaping the forces noted above. Vice President Gore has been at the helm of the Administration’s efforts, and his interest is long standing. He reportedly coined the term information superhighway ten years ago while a Senator from Tennessee, and his interest echoes the earlier legacy of his father, Senator Albert Gore, who authored the legislation for the U.S. interstate highway system—another major national infrastructure. According to Gore, “Information technology is a critical element of economic policy” (Gore, 1995) and has the potential to play the same kind of role that the national highway system did in uniting the nation and stimulating economic growth in the postwar era. In addition, Gore sees the potential of information technology for increasing the competitiveness of U.S. firms globally, both in the information industries and more generally throughout businesses that use the technology for competitiveness. Since becoming Vice President, Gore has worked unceasingly to mobilize support for the Administration’s “NII Initiative” among major segments of business, government and society. Recently, he extended a call to other nations for cooperation in the creation of a GII (global information infrastructure) (Gore, 1995).

It is vital to recognize, however, that the actions proposed for government are not the direct funding and subsidy schemes that characterize many past government actions with respect to infrastructure development for highways, airports and water and sewer systems. They mainly concern deregulation—or more appropriately, “reregulation”—to enable investment and innovation among the private sector providers of information products and services. The government’s role is, at least in principle, to set the rules of the NII game, refrain from inhibiting the private sector, provide critical government supports, and mitigate against socially damaging consequences of private action (monopoly, cutthroat competition, child pornography) or failure to act (e.g., failure to provide reasonable services to low income urban areas or to rural areas). The fundamental principle of the Clinton Administration's NII agenda is that the private sector, not the government, will lead the deployment of the NII. However, government will support private sector action through support for R&D, government use, promotion of societal use, ensuring privacy and security protections and deregulation of telecommunications. Five strategies form the heart of the NII initiative (These are defined as seven areas in IITF documents, but we combine them into five here for simplicity. IITF, 1993):

· Support for R&D The federal government will provide support for R&D related to the NII primarily through continuation of existing programs such as the National Research and Education Network (NREN) and the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative (HPCCI). It will also continue to provide research and experimentation (R&E) tax credits to firms whose expenditures on laboratory or experimental R&D are above a base level. Most computer and communications equipment manufacturing firms and communications carriers will benefit from these tax credits.89

· Government Use The federal government is expected to be a leading user of NII services, thereby generating demand to support the private sector investment. The federal government is developing its own applications for the NII including the provision of broad access to executive and legislative documents, the provision of information about government programs, the receipt of computer-based applications for services or funding under various programs, the electronic transfer of funds and payments, and the computing of income tax and other payments.

· Promotion of Societal Uses The federal government also is expected to act as a catalyst to promote technological innovation and new applications to state and local governments and throughout society. One part of this role involves research into standards for interoperability and security which will aid diffusion. The other involves supporting demonstrations of new applications such as digital libraries, electronic commerce, medical diagnosis, medical record sharing and distance education.

· Ensuring Social Protections The federal government is to ensure protections both to individuals and to businesses. Chief among individual protections, the government is to extend the "universal service" concept to ensure information resources are available to all at affordable prices. Also, the federal government is to ensure the protection of individual privacy. On the side of business protections, the government is to establish standards and protect intellectual property rights. Standards are required to promote seamless, interactive, user-driven operation of the NII. Protection of intellectual property rights at home and abroad is required to encourage the development of applications. The NII provides new market opportunities for software products and information services, but those opportunities will be realized only if governments provide intellectual property protection to the creators of new software, information products and services.

· Reform of Telecommunications The government, through the Congress and the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), is to liberalize the telecommunications industry as a spur to competition and investment among telephone, cable, cellular, satellite and other providers. In addition to deregulation, the government is to improve management of the radio frequency spectrum. The ability to access the resources of the NII will be constrained if there is inadequate spectrum available. Therefore, the government will distribute spectrum by relying upon market principles, will promote public and private sharing of spectrum, and will increase choices for use of the spectrum by licensees.

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