Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 1 / May 1, 1994 / Page 4

Working Together at National Net '94

by John December

WASHINGTON, DC (April 7-8) The National Net '94 conference in Washington brought together people from government, education, and industry under the theme "working together." The plenary panel session on the first day of the conference illustrated this confluence---Larry Smarr of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) demonstrated the networked hypermedia information browser Mosaic, Thomas Kalil of the US National Economic Council presented policy perspectives on the National Information Infrastructure, and Glenn Jones of Jones Intercable described an industry perspective.

Larry Smarr focused on how Mosaic can be used for collaboration---even among competitors. Collaboration through the idea of a "metacenter" has emerged as a way to bring new relationships, ideas, teams, and research together. The National Consortium for High Performance Computing illustrates how information technology can "break walls down" and enable collaboration. Smarr was enthusiastic about state and regional centers and alliances. The Coalition of Academic Supercomputing Centers, according to Smarr, points in this direction. These collaborative efforts allow people at the community level reach small labs, health care, and education. An exciting example of this is Champaign County, Illinois. Smarr cautioned that the developers of a National Information Infrastructure cannot just "throw technology at people," but must foster the development of communities such as Champaign County and the Blacksburg Electronic Village According to Smarr, approaching NII development does not necessarily mean speculating on a future NII, but asking, "What would you do with the NII today?" There are technical issues to be dealt with---such as scalable information servers and systems---but progress can be made today in a spirit of collaboration and community development.

Thomas Kalil, from the National Economic Council advising President Clinton, described how the NII is a high priority item for the administration. The NII is not "an end in itself," Kalil explained, but a means to approach the national challenges in jobs, productivity, and mobile investment. Kalil outlined many possible applications for the NII, including lifelong learning, government information, libraries, manufacturing, commerce, the environment, research, quality of life for the disabled, empowerment zones, participatory democracy, telecommuting, arts, public safety, and international affairs.

Kalil also reported on what's new since the announcement of the administration's creation of the advisory council on the NII. The President's FY95 budget calls for $1.1 billion for the High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) and $100 million for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The administration has also recognized the emerging global information structures with Vice President Al Gore's speech to the International Telecommunications Union on March 21st. The NII Advisory Council selected three "mega-projects" to focus on: Vision and Goals Driven by Specific Applications; Access to the NII; Privacy, Security, and Intellectual Property. Kalil said that as the Council will focus on areas relevant to these issues, the administration seeks input from people about public policy and the NII.

Glenn Jones of Jones Intercable, Inc., described his perspective from an industry standpoint, characterizing his own company as being in the import/export business of higher education. Cable regulation, he maintains, has been "devastating." Although Jones said he was in "sympathy" with Al Gore, he pointed out that other countries---he mentioned the United Kingdom in particular---have a "better environment" for cable and telecommunications. Jones described his distance learning unit, Mind Extension University (ME/U). ME/U offers five global regional campuses, and the resulting worldwide classroom changes paradigms of education and entertainment. The trend, according to Jones, is for very local and very local developments to dissolve boundaries through equipment and telecommunications. Ultimately, Jones said, the human mind is the true terminal of the "information superhighway."

The session on intellectual property raised questions about the nature of intellectual property in networked information. Steve Metalitz of the Information Industries Association described his view that intellectual property protection is critical for the creation of reliable information and services on the Net. There are legal, technical, as well as cultural/educational issues to intellectual property rights. The challenge, according to Metalitz, is to build "bridges and tunnels" among the participants and to craft contracts and rules to link users and information providers. Metalitz outlined a payment model in which users actions would be metered, and users would pay per use. In contrast, Bob Oakley, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, put forth a library model of accessing information. In the library model, according to Oakley, the fundamental purpose of copyright is for the public good and a view of fair use as a way to achieve value, not simply as a transaction-based pay-per-view. Oakley cited community and university libraries and the Internet as models for this kind of system.

Marc Rotenberg of the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), chaired the session exploring the limits of speech and action on the Internet. Brock Meeks, a writer for Wired magazine described his experiences with a company offering "free Internet access." Meeks investigated this company and reported the the results of his findings through his "cyberwire dispatch"---the Internet access wasn't so "free" after all :). The company threatened Meeks with a lawsuit if he did not retract the report; he did not. The company sued Meeks for libel and defamation; and, according to Meeks, he did feel "intimidated" and felt that this kind of action would have a chilling effect on information dissemination on the Internet and that the "integrity of the net could very well be damaged."

In a session devoted to the Internet's place as part of a global information infrastructure, Vinton Cerf, President of the Internet Society, gave a presentation on efforts to coordinate network operations worldwide. The Internet Society's organization includes a Internet Standards and Research Infrastructure group to coordinate intercontinental engineering and planning. The Internet Society also seeks to disseminate accurate information about the Internet and its history. Cerf stated that he is concerned about Internet security and the technical issues arising from commercial use, open access, and protected intellectual property. The changes brought about by the rapid expansion of the Internet community, Cerf observed, continue to bring up the need to articulate what is the "commons" on the Internet, and to distinguish among networks/hosts, and access/resources.

On the last afternoon of National Net '94, Samuel H. Smith, President of Washington State University, opened his Keynote address to the National Net '94 conference by observing, "same room... different Smith," referring humorously to the previous day's appearance of Ray Smith of Bell Atlantic at the conference. Samuel Smith challenged the audience to think about how his university is changing, and what these changes might imply for online communities. Instead of answering the common question, "where is your university?" in terms of geography, Smith now answers the question in terms of where the students are. Washington State's students are older, more settled, as well as more technologically advanced. This older, more demanding student body demands more innovation in terms of information technology. According to Smith, however, "technology must not dominate what we are doing, but support it."

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