National information infrastructure


NII Services: Current and Future



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NII Services: Current and Future


The key driver of the NII's expansion and growth will be the services available to business, government, education, and household users. The Internet is new, but many of the services that form a core of the NII are have been in place for decades, and have achieved great penetration as illustrated in Table 4. The current penetration of services must also be seen in terms of time to diffusion for the underlying technology. For example, voice communication via the telephone was invented in the last century and only deployed to most households between 1910-1930. That is, it took about 70 years from its first invention for plain old telephone service (POTS) to be diffused to 50% of the households in the U.S. Today, telephone service is available with enhanced features such as voice mail and conferencing, but not yet widely diffused. Entertainment is available via radio, broadcast and cable television, and recorded programming such as videos and music. The underlying technology of TV took 34 years to diffuse to nearly all households but the VCR took only 13 years to diffuse to 65% of households. Entertainment is a primary vehicle for promoting greater information services into the home, and there is a very large industry built up around providing content in the form of movies, TV programming, news, home shopping and education. But, some of the new technologies (multimedia, CD-ROM) for the newer entertainment services have yet to be diffused to a large number of households. Text data access via computer networks is presently being extended to the home, and is growing rapidly as shown by the Internet figures earlier. Yet, diffusion of the PC to 30% of U.S. households has taken 20 years (Table 5).

[Insert Tables 4 & 5 here.]

The NII movement did not create such services or technologies. Instead, it recognizes and captures them under its banner, proclaiming their expansion, enhancement and integration. The NII is expected to bring us what we already have, but in ways that are better, faster and cheaper. Many services and technologies claimed as new can be expected initially to be little more than improvements on what already exists. However, new services can be expected, and are already in experimental form. Many of these are predicted for home use. Publication traditionally seen in print such as magazines and newspapers can be expected to move to video/computer forms with high-resolution "print on demand" capability. New entertainment will take advantage of networked interactive video and virtual reality. Telemedicine applications will allow individuals to assist remotely located physicians perform in-home physical exams and therapeutic procedures. Utility companies will read meters remotely over the communication network, and regulate power use by appliances like home freezers and air conditioners at times of peak electrical demand. Advertisers will use intelligent agents over the network to learn the interests of consumers to facilitate marketing.

In spite of the excitement over home-based NII services, the largest initial markets for NII service appear to be in business. For example, most Internet growth has occurred in the domains of educational and commercial organizations, not through individual access over services such as Prodigy or America Online. Organizations with large, dispersed workgroups already have a demonstrated need for "cooperative work" support services (McNealy, 1994), and the needs of "occupational communities" have been predicted as a major cause for the expansion of Internet use (Pickering and King, 1995). The promotional rhetoric for the NII focusing on services to the home is reminiscent of earlier promotion about home computers, which focused on the household market. While computers did appear in homes, it did so mainly as an extension of work at the office, and secondarily as an extension of work at school (Venkatesh and Vitalari, 1993). Home-based computing for non-work/school purposes has been much slower to develop, but to the extent it is growing, it is doing so by leveraging the investment made for external work/school purposes.

At issue in the service mix of the NII is not merely the kinds of services that might be offered, but the timing and patterns of service penetration to be expected. Expanded access to traditional services such as video programming has already occurred in both urban and rural settings, across a wide socio-economic spectrum through both cable and satellite, but this is mainly in the form of one-way broadcast television. The NII will make only marginal improvements on this service mix, perhaps by expanding the number of one-way television channels available. More complex, interactive services based on computers as well as video are likely to follow the pattern of home computing in the 1980's, with initial penetration an extension of work and school activities. Although much has been made of the possibility for the creation of remote "telework" havens where professionals will congregate, it seems much more probable that the early markets for these new NII services will be concentrated in large, urban areas where most of the professional work force already lives and is already networked socially (King and Kraemer, 1995; Saxenian, 1994).

As this section has shown, the private-sector dominated evolution of NII services is anything but carefully "designed." It is, and is forecast to be, a “business as usual” pattern of service evolution. As will be seen in the next section, this pattern is reinforced in the interplay of private sector players in the NII as of this time.

ORDER WITHOUT DESIGN: CHANGING INSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURES FOR COMPETITION AND COOPERATION


It is difficult to imagine how a coherent design for the NII could emerge from the turbulent mix of changing technologies, market demand uncertainties, and hypercompetitive behavior among the key players. However, result is not chaotic. The absence of a clear design for the NII does not mean that there is no discernible order in the evolution of the NII. On the contrary, this section discusses the ways in which a kind of order in the NII movement is evident even without design. The NII movement can be seen as a kind of game in which certain parameters will direct the course of play toward a relatively limited set of outcomes. The specific set of outcomes cannot be predicted, but the general range of likely outcomes can be seen. There are the players of this game can be characterized in terms of their roles as providers, users, and regulators.



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