bandwidth required to energize an affordable and comprehensive personal computer-based information infrastructure.
The deployment of bandwidth that can be utilized in an open manner to access NII services from the home needs to be encouraged. For data, this access should be via general packet protocols (based on the Internet standards of TCP/IP) that permit users direct interaction with any service they desire. Specifically, data services from the home should come to be viewed like existing telephony services that allow consumers to access any services anywhere in the nation. It may be that for other multimedia services, such access would be better provided via circuit-oriented services such as switched ATM virtual circuits (although promising work is ongoing on utilizing packet protocols for this as well), but in any case the same principles of openness and full connectivity must apply. We also believe that the development of industry-driven standards or implementation agreements for attaching to and utilizing this open bandwidth will be critical to the creation of a competitive environment for consumer information applications. The government role should be to encourage rapid industry convergence on such de facto standards or implementation agreements that can later be the basis of more formal de jure ones. This paper attempts to lay out some requirements for the development of consumer PC information services broadly within the NII.
As a point of reference let us first consider the typical business access being deployed to allow PCs to utilize the developing NII. The typical networked PC in the office is attached to a 10-Mbps Ethernet or similar performing Token Ring network. (International Data Corporation estimates that in 1994, 73 percent of the business PCs in the United States were attached to local area networks.) While this bandwidth is shared with the other users of the network in most cases, switched networks are beginning to be deployed that replace the shared access with dedicated access. In addition, technologies such as 100-Mbps Ethernet are appearing that will also greatly improve the bandwidth available to the individual user. Beyond the local environment, most large corporations are deploying reasonable bandwidth into the Internet at large. This combination makes available relatively high-speed access to information and services whether local to the business desktop or remote.
In addition to the bandwidth that is available, another key aspect of the business desktop is the development of standards. Industry-driven network connection standards have driven down the cost of connecting to the network from the PC. For example, Ethernet controller cards for PCs now typically sell for less than $100, operating systems increasingly come with protocol software built in, and a growing number of applications comprehend networking capabilities. Platform software standards have made it possible for creative developers to build software independent of the nature of the specific network. For example, the Winsock de facto standard for accessing network services on the Microsoft Windows Operating System is allowing application developers to focus their efforts on enhancing function in their products rather than on adapting those applications to a variety of different, incompatible, network services.
Network protocol standards have allowed end-to-end services to operate over a wide variety of network implementations. In particular, general packet networks have allowed a wide variety of data services as well as new applications such as video conferencing to begin to operate without special provisions from the providers of the networks. An entrepreneurial developer need not make deals with a variety of platform and network providers to begin to deploy an application in this environment. Neither is an interested business consumer restricted from beginning to take advantage of such new services by the choices offered him by various network suppliers.
Key aspects of the business environment are that it has been almost entirely industry driven and motivated by competition. De facto standards or implementation agreements have been rapidly developed and only later evolved into de jure standards. Throughout the evolution of the business and the associated standards, the intellectual property of the participants has been respected by the processes. It is interesting to note that the more ponderous de jure first approach to standards represented by the International Telecommunications Union (the official international body for defining standards within the telecommunications industry) has been considerably