actions for nurturing the development of the infrastructure and to identify where consensus might be easy to achieve and where it might not. The workshop was not designed to delve deeply into the underlying technical issues, but rather to identify key technical trends and questions as they relate to economic, legal, and regulatory possibilities.2

This volume captures the proceedings of the workshop, building on its discussions and those of the steering committee that organized it. It contains the papers presented at the workshop, grouped into three parts reflecting the activities of the three panels and introduced by overviews prepared by the panel chairs. The papers present many different perspectives, but two distinctively different ones dominate: that of the analyst/academic and that of the practitioner/user. The former set provides the somewhat-removed sense of direction and mission important for policy development; the latter is ''from the trenches," presenting the concerns of those who deal with concrete problems of application. While the gap between the two perspective is often large, they complement each other. Policy analysts must consider the broad public interest and how to serve it. Practitioners must say what it means in practice to pursue policy goals and must identify problems and opportunities that cannot be deduced from policy principles alone.

For example, the practical experience of Citibank with networks, as explained by panelist Colin Crook, illuminates some of the prospects presented by the availability of new infrastructure. There are huge implications for the organization of economic activity (such as the ability to separate the locations for processing information from the activities generating that information) that are rarely addressed systematically in discussions of policy implications. Such insights from practice can help extend and test the more abstract analyses emerging from the policy community.

This introductory chapter summarizes the workshop discussions, capturing key panel issues and cross-cutting themes. It draws on remarks offered by participants and places their comments and the papers into perspective by referring to subsequent developments in industry and government.


Defining the telecommunications/information infrastructure is not trivial, for restricted definitions can artificially limit discussion. An appropriate conceptual framework is needed. So also is an appreciation for the scope of applications, features, and benefits desired in the modern infrastructure and for the shortcomings of the current infrastructure. Such considerations suggest the challenges faced in developing tomorrow's infrastructure, and they were the focus of Panel 1.

Charles Firestone of the Aspen Institute, one of the two keynote speakers of Panel 1, advanced a broad definition that served as a valuable foundation for the workshop's efforts and helps elucidate a number of thorny issues. The infrastructure, according to Firestone, comprises the following elements of electronic communications:

  • Production of information in film, video, audio, text, or digital formats;

  • Distribution media, that is, telephony, broadcasting, cable, and other electronic transmission and storage media; and

  • Reception processes and technologies such as customer-premise equipment, videocassettes, satellite dishes, and computers.

This unconventional definition bridges both the telecommunications and information dimensions of the evolving National Information Infrastructure. According to Firestone, it "places attention on an increasingly important but often overlooked area of regulation, that of reception. As First Amendment cases move toward greater editorial autonomy by the creators, producers, and even distributors of information, attention will have to be focused on reception for filtering and literacy concerns." Conversely, as choice at the reception end is empowered—for example, as the consumer

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement