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The Changing Nature of Telecommunications/Information Infrastructure
fail from excessive generality. If we can focus on specific programs, specific kinds of initiatives, there is some chance of advancement.
For example, we have a particular quantitation of the way federal action has held up gains in consumer value in the cellular area where, for nearly 10 years, it delayed the introduction of a technology that was clearly there. We have market evaluation processes for measuring that sort of thing. But the market may not send adequate signals to evaluate the "public good" aspects of education and consumption of raw information.
CLIFFORD LYNCH: In listening to this, I have felt that an aspect is missing in some of the discussions. I want to try to quickly outline it and then solicit some reaction.
I think that when we have been talking about this information infrastructure and looking at some of the economic models that might provide insight, we tend to be thinking about a communications network. And we think about universal service objectives in terms of getting everybody connected. I have some reservations about whether the primary use of this new network world is going to be person-to-person communication for the vast majority of users. Certainly, things like the telephone work really effectively for a lot of people right now. And things like the picture phone haven't been roaring successes.
I suspect that a lot of the use of this system is going to be access to various kinds of information services. If you think of that as accounting for a lot of the use of an information infrastructure, a bunch of questions come up. What does universal service mean in that sense? You have connected people to something, but they can't afford to use most of the services on it, because they cost many many times what the connection costs. As with the phone, just because we give them universal service doesn't mean that we give everybody a blank check for 900 numbers.
Another point. It seems to me that another area of potential government investment choices to be considered is placing information services on your network, including, as you mentioned, some of the enormous stores of government information that could be organized and made accessible, either at very low cost or perhaps, in some cases, for free if there are policy or legislative mandates to do so, for access by the citizenry. It seems to me that that is a whole other dimension of potential government investment that could move along the creation of the infrastructure by giving people reasons to want to make use of it.
BREEDEN: I think Cliff is right. It is incorrect to focus only on the communications aspect of this and to assume that that means people communicating directly with other individuals. One of the other panelists made a point about the need to standardize presentation of data. Cliff has done a lot of work in something called Z39.50, which is an information standard. I think those areas are going to be tremendously important.
I tend to think that the equity issues, if we are going to avoid having a society of information "haves" and "have nots," are going to be solved in the public libraries.
MESSERSCHMITT: Laura made a very important point from my perspective—that is, increasingly, the cost to users in terms of equipment and services is often for equipment that they buy themselves, rather than for network transport services, which are rapidly being driven toward zero. Bob Lucky made this point in his talk, that Internet was so cheap in comparison to the telephone. So I think that the issues with respect to customer-owned equipment that is necessary are quite different, probably, from the issues having to do with the communication infrastructure and yet may ultimately be more important in terms of issues like universal service.