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The private sector, not the government, should set
standards; de jure standards, whether set by government or the
private sector, are not preferable to de facto standards; and
Unless security and privacy are protected, the NII
will not reach its full potential as a platform for electronic
These assertions may be controversial; many run counter to
conventional wisdom, particularly that of the Washington, D.C.,
community. However, all are market-oriented. And they are
fundamental to U.S. economic goals.
The NII: Not Synonymous with the
Entertainment is the engine that has already pulled broadband
networks into over 60 percent of American homes. Entertainment will
drive the investment necessary to upgrade those networks as well.
This is not a fact easily accepted by some Internet aficionados and
some in the computer industry. Many in those groups join millions
of other Americans who have a low opinion of much of current
television programming. Many view the Internet as a liberator from
TV's vast wasteland. But there are also other reasons why the role
of entertainment is not more widely acknowledged by the computer
Computer businessmen are aware that today's dominant
entertainment terminal, the television set, is an extremely
cost-sensitive (and low-cost), relatively simple piece of
electronics, geared to nonbusiness consumers, with a life of over
10 years. This is a long way from their preferred business model.
The consumer electronics industry is dominated by foreign-owned
companies; the computer industry is U.S. based. The television
industry has relied on interlace scanning and sees it as important
to keeping down the cost of its investment 8; the computer industry wants
progressive scanning formats.
Likewise, those in the computer business look at other players
and find them to be quite different from themselves. The cable
television industry has only recently emerged from its "pioneer"
phase and still revels in its "cowboy" image 9. Cable operators have an obsession
with cost control, based on experience with mass consumer
marketing. Where the computer industry has traditionally sold into
the business community, cable operators have focused on residential
customers. Regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs), in contrast
to both, have previously been large, sleepy, and cumbersome
bureaucracies, typical of utilities, and the antithesis of the
computer industry 10.
The computer and Internet communities are not alone in their
suspicion of the alien cultures that have suddenly entered their
world. About 15 months ago, a high-level business manager 11 for a leading supplier to the cable
television industry told his staff, "Somebody is going to have to
explain this Internet to me!" He was reflecting not only his lack
of knowledge of the phenomenon but also his exasperation at the
whole range of new factors he had to consider as he developed his
current core businesses.
So it is not surprising that computer business managers tend to
gravitate toward an Internet model of the future NII. They will
naturally have less enthusiasm for the role of entertainment than
those who have worked in that field
12. But to recognize entertainment as the primary engine of the
deployment of advanced broadband networks does not denigrate the
role or the importance of the Internet. The NII is and should be
about a lot more than just selling pay-per-view movies or making it
possible for people to watch reruns of Roseanne or
Baywatch. The advanced broadband networks that will share the
task of serving as the backbone of the NII are about making video
an integral part of all communications. The addition of video
capability has major, positive implications for education, health,
and business efficiency.
What entertainment can do is bring this broadband capability to
every home and business. It can and will carry the major load of
the investment needed to do that. When cable television operators
begin to deploy digital decompression terminals, they will be
putting into each user's home a level of computing power that is
the equivalent of yesterday's mainframes. Far from detracting from
or conflicting with the Internet, the broadband pipes of these
networks will make Internet access via high-speed connections
available to an increasingly wider range of Americans 13.