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Realizing the Information Future: The Internet and Beyond
formed the conduct of research among those who have come to depend on it; it is a holy grail for others, notably the K-12 education community, which should have greater access to it but has not been able to afford that access. Its success, reflected in its dramatic growth and the richness of its uses, is a handsome return on highly leveraged federal investments in the underlying technologies and in access for large segments of the research and education communities for which the Internet was originally built.1 It both exemplifies and showcases the successful transfer of defense-related technology to the civilian economy. Yet the Internet's success may well be dwarfed by the promised returns from the far larger, more complex, and more integrated NII.
A truly national information infrastructure will be much harder to shape than was the Internet. The Internet arose in a vacuum with little awareness outside the research community, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other federal research-oriented agencies of what it was and what it could do. Commercial telecommunications and information services, on the other hand, have developed as a result of both market forces and public policy influences ranging from the federal, state, and local regulations that affect telephone and cable television offerings and rates, all the way to the intellectual property protections that affect electronic publication. The broader the conceptualization of the information infrastructure—the farther it extends to embrace information generation and use as well as transport—the greater the planning needed to make it all work together and the broader the relevant policy framework. The scale, scope, and visibility of "wiring up" not only the education and library communities, but also every home and public entity in the United States, present an enormous challenge. Compounding domestic conditions is the fact that whatever measures are taken in the United States must anticipate and sometimes respond to conditions in the foreign networks and infrastructures to which the U.S. infrastructure is and will continue to be interconnected. Ongoing investment aimed at the future NII and the imminent roll-out of infrastructure, together with the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Internet, force consideration now of plans to be made, steps to be taken, and challenging policy issues to be confronted in the development of a broadly useful U.S. information infrastructure.
WHERE WE ARE TODAY
Existing Communications Networks and Increasing Focus on Infrastructure
A network (Box 1.1) is a communication system that connects together geographically distributed users by means of links and switches as