Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 6 / October 1, 1994 / Page 5

Can New York Enter the Information Age?

by John December (

ALBANY, NEW YORK (September 8-9) The Communications Expo held recently at the Empire State Plaza offered a variety of seminars and exhibits of interest to business communicators in the New York Capital District and surrounding region. The two-day exposition also demonstrated that interest and expertise in Net communication is still in the preliminary stages. However, a still subtler issue loomed among the glitzy booths and droning talks in meeting rooms. Can the state's telecommunications industry thrive while relying on old-fashioned product paradigms? Or is New York's public telecommunications policy choking an information industry that is striving to innovate?

Only one of the exhibit hall displays directly addressed Internet users: a local Internet-access service, The Global-One. Otherwise, major corporate displays touted ISDN (NYNEX) and video delivered over networks via a mainframe server (IBM). But the Net showed its presence under the folds of the glossy brochures to some degree: NYNEX offers information solutions involving ISDN for telecommuting:

"Many employees who rely primarily on voice communications may occasionally use their modem-equipped PCs to send and receive E-mail as their link to the main office. Their projects also may require accessing on-line data bases or communicating with colleagues on the Internet." (NYNEX, "Telecommuting Solutions").
While NYNEX's telecommuting products show how non-voice interaction may play some role in business communication, NYNEX's product line right now offers much in the way of voice diddling--Call Forwarding, Call Answering, Caller ID, and variations--but little in the way of non-voice, networked communication (aside from some of what is shown in the enticing "NYNEX right now" ads). This pattern seemed the norm for the big players at the expo, an absence that, juxtaposed against IBM's display of its multimedia solutions, raises the question:
Will an obsessive emphasis on voice as a means for business communication eliminate jobs from New York state just as Big Blue's fixation on mainframes drained the Hudson Valley?

In the breakfast seminar, "New York: Can Information be the New Industry?," a sparse crowd heard Mick Fleming, Director of Regional Affairs of the Business Council of New York State, chair a panel discussion of the state's economy and outlook for information as an industry. He emphasized the 111,000 jobs lost in the state since March 1991, despite Governor Cuomo's insistence that New York is thriving in this election year. Fleming noted that despite being the 10th largest global economy and rich nexus of business headquarters and communications, New York remains saddled with a tax structure that pushes development to places such as North Carolina with its innovative state-wide ATM Network.

When asked about the Internet, Bob Zinebecker, President of the New York State Telephone Association (NYSTA), said that New York's telephone companies indeed would like to break into Internet-based communication, but the current tax and public policy structures hobble them. Specifically, NYSTA would like to see telecommunications policy reform in these areas:

While the Communications Expo was not a forum where networked communications were the featured emphasis, the expo demonstrated a rising interest in the Net. In the session, "The Impact of the Information Superhighway," Bob Bownes of EMI gave a quick tour of the Internet, via a New York Network satellite feed. Bownes' tour traced the development of the Internet and featured live demonstrations of several applications, including EMI's web, an example of a company that is using the Net intensively.

The expo highlighted the tenativeness of New York's industries' foray into the Net and how limits from the State House or major corporate development labs may either stifle or foster future opportunities. ¤

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