possible an enormous number of applications, some clearly seen and some as yet unimagined. There will be missteps and failures, along with full and partial successes, but the technology and its uses will advance steadily.
History tells us that systems as complex as a nation's information infrastructure evolve incrementally, driven by private investment in the pursuit of unrealized opportunities, consensus-based public needs, and countless entrepreneurs testing the system for natural niches, for unique sources of customer value. Given that future plans are marked by diversity of vision and action, is the NII itself a paradigm that is losing its luster? Perhaps, if it is interpreted to refer to conformance with a grand plan, which appears increasingly unrealistic.
Given a future only partly seen, how shall we characterize the NII? The steering committee for the NII 2000 project sees no choice but to define the NII broadly and inclusively:
The national information infrastructure (NII) is the collection of all public and private information services—both facilities- and content-based—operating as a complex, dynamic system. It exists today but is and always will be in a state of flux.
Since more and more devices, systems, and processes will contain computing elements and be interconnected in some way, it is important that the NII be defined early on as being inclusive. Of course, the global information infrastructure of which it is a part extends the notion of inclusiveness geographically, technologically, and economically.
Rather than a single coherent technical framework, the NII is a concept to focus thinking about a very important set of resources whose value to society depends on their connectivity, accessibility, and functionality for many important purposes.1 This view of the NII admits to different perspectives, as expressed by various readers of an early draft of this report. Box 1.1 gives two examples. In particular, perspectives differ significantly across industries. Approaches to testing new markets are as different as conducting market trials for integrated multiservice packages and making new applications available on the Internet. But the difference between the personal computer (PC) vision and the set-top box vision is not about the detailed technical choices to be made; it concerns instead a choice about the role of infrastructure—should infrastructure deliver a particular service (e.g., telephony or television), or should it enable the creation of entirely new services via general-purpose (e.g., Internet) services?—and differences in the funding model (identify a specific ''killer app," or assume that the aggregate of the demand will come from millions of customer uses, none of which is important by itself). Symptomatic of the many differences among industries are semantic disagreements