US Initiatives on the National Information Infrastructure

Avron Barr
Stanford Computer Industry Project

InfoTech `95
Kuala Lumpur
November 1, 1995

Slide Index
1. What is the NII?
2. The Internet: The Forerunner to the NII
3. Current Uses of the Internet
4. What's Different about this Medium?
5. What's Different about the Internet? (cont.)
6. US Initiatives for the Information Superhighway
7. The US Federal Government and the NII
8. Why This Research Style Works
9. What Is Changing So Fast?
10. And the Focus of Discussion is Changing Too
11. Recent Government Efforts
12. What Can Governments Do?
13. Principles of US Federal Government Initiatives
14. Principles of US Federal Government Initiatives (cont.)
15. Government's Own Use of the NII
16. Other Federal Initiatives
17. Other Federal Initiatives (cont.)
18. "Top-Down" Initiatives
19. Smart Valley: A "Bottom-Up" Initiative
20. CommerceNet
21. Conclusion

What is the NII?

  • The most important thing to remember is that we don't know what the NII is, yet.
  • Other new media technologies, like broadcast TV and cable, have promised great contributions to society and delivered only the lowest common denominator.
  • "How to succeed when you don't know what you're doing"
  • Back to slide index

    The Internet: The Forerunner to the NII

  • Seems to have appeared overnight
  • Will expand. Will be replicated. Will evolve.
  • All inventions evolve. Their ultimate use is rarely foreseen by inventors and early participants. And the path may be long, involve much work, and result in a surprising relationship between the original technology and its business/social impact.
  • Back to slide index

    Current Uses of the Internet

  • Email
  • Information access
  • Training
  • Collaboration (teleconferencing, concurrent engineering, remote medical diagnosis)
  • Shopping
  • Electronic distribution of intellectual property (music, software, periodicals, video)
  • Most important: Building communities of interest (Usenet)
  • Back to slide index

    What's Different about this Medium?

    If the Internet is the forerunner of a new communications medium, what is different about it compared to writing, broadcast, telephone, etc.?
  • It is not created by one organization or a small group. Rather, it's being created by thousands of people and organizations working in parallel in uncoordinated, bottom-up efforts.
  • Everyone can broadcast. It is technically and economically feasible for everyone to be a publisher.
  • Multimedia: The medium in visually compelling, like TV. But it is also interactive (but asynchronous).
  • Back to slide index

    What's Different about the Internet? (cont.)

  • Embedded in the media is an enormous amount of computational power. There will be artificial intelligence here: agents, filters, and "active" information systems that offer assistance in helping people find what they need.
  • The medium is cumulative. Already, the whole is more than the sum of the individual efforts to put up home pages.
  • It is international, global, from the beginning.
  • There are communities forming already. Regional and topical. Here people can commune.
  • Back to slide index

    US Initiatives for the Information Superhighway

  • Government efforts are dwarfed by private investment (time and money): Corporations and entrepreneurs, civic groups, individuals.
  • Initiatives vary in size, technology, applications, market, champion (government, business, non-profit) and management (top-down vs. bottom-up).
  • Competitive environment, though inefficient, supports diversity of efforts.
  • --> The streets in our town will be dug up several times to run cable for competing companies
    --> Each will offer different technology mixes, different applications.
    --> Can't pick the winner now!
    Back to slide index

    The US Federal Government and the NII

  • Most important: Early federally-funded research created the technology!
  • --> 30 years ago, US Dept of Defense funded research for less vulnerable telcom technology. --> Long-term funding of many different technical approaches. --> Peer review, not centrally administered research program --> Invented packet switching, along with other technologies which have no use, yet!

  • During the 1970's and 80's, government continued to fund testbeds like ARPAnet and NSFnet.
  • Advanced applications were explored in the military: command and control, logistics, training, ...
  • This research investment continues. Many diverse efforts are funded, many technological alternatives are explored. Current R& D efforts will pay off 30 years from now!
  • Back to slide index

    Why This Research Style Works

  • "Technodiversity"
  • --> Rapid technological change precludes consensus or top-down programs --> No one can predict technological winners or market realities

  • Researchers and students personally fuel industrial innovation
  • Exploration of possibilities is the only way to understand technology's true value/implications. (Inventors can't see it.)
  • Therefore, failure can't be avoided

  • --> Diversity of approaches is the best risk management strategy --> Failure must be planned for and accepted. (E.g., it can't end careers.)

  • This is also how Silicon Valley venture capitalists and entrepreneurs work out the early industrial stage of technology development.
  • Back to slide index

    What Is Changing So Fast?

  • Transmission technology

  • --> ATM, HFC, wireless, compression

  • Software technology
  • --> Netscape, Java, Oracle, Microsoft

  • Home PC technology, multimedia
  • --> 33% of US households own PC's --> In 1975, only 50,000 computers worldwide; now, 100,000 sold per day

  • Server technology from a dozen vendors
  • Merging of computing, consumer electronics, telecom & "media"
  • Back to slide index

    And the Focus of Discussion is Changing Too

  • Video on demand
  • --> vs. perceived utility of service

  • Universal access
  • --> vs. privacy, security

  • Fiber into the home
  • --> vs. hybrid fiber coaxial cable (HFC)
    Back to slide index

    Recent Government Efforts

  • In the last 2 years, now that the Information Superhighway is a hot topic, the government acted quickly...
  • To set up a committee. Several committees. And dozens of task forces and working groups.
  • But government action at all levels (federal, state, tribal, regional, and local) has been very effective in facilitating forward movement.
  • Federal government sees its role as facilitator, nurturer of private efforts

  • Back to slide index

    What Can Governments Do?

  • Strategic vision: leadership, demonstrations, creating demand
  • Propaganda and promotions: awards for innovative applications
  • Coordination: standards committees, conferences, working groups
  • Funding: research and "co-funded" projects
  • Tax and other incentives for private investment
  • Most important: help figure out what it's good for by using it!
  • Back to slide index

    Principles of US Federal Government Initiatives

  • Promote private sector investment
  • --> Telecom deregulation --> Tax incentives for R& D and new business formation --> "Matching funds" programs

  • Universal access
  • --> colleges, libraries, rural schools & governments

  • Promote technological innovation & new applications
  • --> High-performance computing and communications programs --> Matching grants from NTIA
    ** local governments, healthcare providers, schools, libraries
    Back to slide index

    Principles of US Federal Government Initiatives (cont.)

  • Seamless operation
  • --> Standards panels & workshops --> Allowed agencies flexibility in choosing standards --> Guidelines for states

  • Ensure information security and reliability
  • Improve management of radio frequencies
  • Protect intellectual property rights
  • Coordination with state & regional efforts
  • Access to government information; improve procurement
  • Back to slide index

    Government's Own Use of the NII

  • Connecting government institutions:
  • -->

  • Dissemination of government information (a massive effort in the US):
  • -->"Welcome to the White House", consumer information center

  • Developing indexes and directories
  • --> Government information locator, international trade data system

  • Explore use of the technology in re-engineering government processes:
  • --> Electronic benefits transfer, procurement, license and permit applications, coordination of public housing authorities, ...
    Back to slide index

    Other Federal Initiatives

  • Telecom Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP)
  • --> $24M matching funds --> 92 grants to non-profit organizations, state & local governments
    ** E.g., CommerceNet

  • Public Telecom Facilities Program
  • --> $6.4M --> 29 grants to schools
    Back to slide index

    Other Federal Initiatives (cont.)

  • Tech Corps
  • --> $300M in computer equipment, software, training

  • "Education 2000" program
  • ARPA Technology Reuse Program (TRP)
  • Continuing research in national labs, testbeds
  • IITF Index of projects
  • Back to slide index

    "Top-Down" Initiatives

  • Time-Warner "Full Service Network"
  • --> Prototype of video on demand in Orlando, Florida --> $1B investment --> Pilot program: 4000 homes with set-top boxes --> Still no clear demand for service

  • State of Iowa
  • --> Terminals in libraries, state office buildings --> $200M investment --> Links all counties, universities, TV stations --> Problems in implementation
    Back to slide index

    Smart Valley: A "Bottom-Up" Initiative

  • Regional government/private sector effort to enhance Silicon Valley's future
  • Programs
  • --> Smart Schools --> Regional digital mapping project --> Public access networks in libraries, youth /senior centers --> Smart permits
    ** 27 local government agencies working together to streamline the permit process
    --> Assoc. of Bay Area governments, PacBell, PA Comnet --> Telemedicine --> Bay Area Multimedia Technology Association (BAMTA)
    Back to slide index


  • TIIAP and industry funding
  • Linked with Smart Valley
  • Projects
  • --> Pilot ISDN for small business --> Smart catalogues --> Pilot end-to-end supply chain management program
    ** Request for quotes (RFQ), bid, contract, payment
    --> Software marketing and distribution --> Directories --> Collaborative engineering --> Telecommuting -- published guidelines Back to slide index


  • US Federal, state & local activity is extensive
  • Overshadowed by private initiatives
  • Government use of technology shapes technology -- and shapes government
    ** Govenments will not always be defined geographically

  • Technologies evolve toward human needs
  • We need better government
  • --> Overburdened public officials and court system --> Increasing complexity --> Giant bureaucracies --> Short-term planning perspectives Back to slide index
  • Back Home