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the aborted Bell Atlantic-TIC megamerger reveals the economic shortcomings of integrating the broadband loops of cable TV with the switches and back-office operations of telcos when they are not located within the same geographic locality. As a result, these telco and cable companies are struggling to add to their networks what the other already has in operation. For two capital-intensive industries, this economically taxing competition begs the public policy question: If building the information superhighway is so expensive, why, as a nation, are we trying to build two of them? The problem is that public policy has not charged our PSTN and PBN industries with the goal and task of creating a new and shared "public utility" system nationwide, a public telecomputer network (PTN) providing universal and equal access to interactive media on a common carrier basis. This is the strange attractor toward which our communications and computing industries have been converging since the breakup of the Bell system. However, the current chaos will continue and public network engineers will pursue inappropriate network architectures until our country proclaims such a goal with the proper laws to encourage, support, and regulate the enterprise.

Background

Before 1993, the public policy issues surrounding the evolving NII were mostly limited to industrial infighting. It was the telcos versus newspapers over interpretation of the MFJ, broadcasters versus studios over Fin/Syn rules, and everyone taking opposing positions on the FCC's proposed video dialtone rules. These public policy debates were, for the most part, kept within the communications industry establishment and the hallways and offices of Congress and the FCC. Then someone said "500 TV channels," and visions of the entertainment possibilities and public service opportunities moved from the industry trade rags to the front pages and covers of our national consumer publications. This media attention captured the public's imagination as the now infamous information superhighway.

Since then, most of our leading telecommunications and media executives have declared themselves "infobahn" road warriors. They rushed off to announce their respective multimedia trials and megamergers to deliver tele-this, cyber-that, and your own personal virtual-reality Xanadu. Within the next 5 to 7 years, the public will expect the NII, as the next generation's "public network" of switched and broadcasted communications, to deliver on these entertainment, education, and public utility promises. This is a major undertaking for private industry and public policymakers. To understand the network and regulatory engineering paradigm shift that must take place, one needs to comprehend the existing and evolving public network infrastructure within a common context. That context is "video dialtone."

The current state of play within the industry involves two predominant, and one emerging, telecomputer system models. A telecomputer system, in the fuzzy macro context of the NII, is the mass media system that our nation's cable and telephone companies are striving to create to deliver interactive digital everything to the consuming public. It is the underlying hardware infrastructure that will integrate telecommunications, television, computing, and publishing into a seamless national multimedia network.

The older and more familiar of the predominant telecomputer models is that of the PC in every home connected to the Internet and other packet-switched networks of computers. This is the "PC" model. Although this model was a dismal failure as a mass medium during the brief videotext era, it has had a recent resurgence encouraged by flashy multimedia PCs, GUIs, CD-ROMs, and the explosive worldwide growth of the Internet. The champions of this model tend to be the manufacturers and sophisticated users of advanced PCs, workstations, and high-speed data networking gear. The essential NII elements that this model brings to a telecomputer architecture are those that offer the most artistic, creative, and communication freedoms to users, programmers, and publishers.

The other predominant model, getting off to a dubious start, is that of the "smart" TV set-top box (TSB) in every home interfacing with a video server. This is the "TSB" telecomputing model. This model is the result of recent advances in microprocessor, video compression, and network transmission technologies. The champions of this model tend to be the manufacturers of cable converters, microprocessors, and midrange computers in partnership with cable and television companies. In apparent conflict with the PC model, the essential NII elements of the TSB network architecture are those necessary for responsible mass media broadcasting and



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