National Information Infrastructure:
Myths, Metaphors And Realities

III. STAKEHOLDERS OF THE NII

The stakeholders of the NII include all parties involved in the various aspects of its implementation. Since it has been a U.S. Government initiative, the Administration is a key stakeholder. While the Government is primary playing its rule- making role, its various agencies are instrumental in shaping the policies that are amenable to the success of the initiative. Yet, without the private sector, NII would not be possible. The various companies involved in the creation, publication, transmission, storage, organization, dissemination, recycling or processing of information, or in providing the facilitating hardware or software, would be primarily instrumental in constructing the NII. Most of these companies would do so to satisfy their own strategic or competitive objectives - in most cases related to sustaining existing customers and securing new markets. In other words, all companies involved in one way or another in providing information products or services would need customers who have the willingness and capability to buy those. Hence, to ensure the long-term viability of the NII, customers should be sufficiently motivated to buy the information products and services available on the NII. In case of the U.S. Government, the information services and products will be accessible at negligible cost to the taxpayers. Various kinds of consumer groups would be involved in ensuring that the interests of the customers using the NII are adequately safeguarded. Due to the key role of information in education and learning, educational institutions, academia and libraries would be involved in the creation as well as usage and dissemination of various kinds of information. The NII has received wide coverage [by the mass media] as a broad-based multimedia national resource accessible to all U.S. citizens. The major players attempting to influence the NII's creation include the White House, the Congress, federal courts, federal departments and agencies, state regulators, industry participants and the public (Pearce, 1994). Figure 1 depicts the roles that various Federal Government Agencies are playing in the NII initiative.

The various stakeholders can be divided into four broad categories :

. those who will own the information networks, primarily the private sector firms;

. those who will create user-end information processing devices such as TVs, telephones, computers, and their composites, etc.;

. information providers such as local broadcasters, digital libraries, information service providers, and individuals who want to sell or share information; and most importantly,

. information customers, who would demand quality products at affordable prices. The users and providers of information would have different, though, overlapping needs for the NII services. The information users would have the following types of needs (GITS, 1994):

searching, discovering, updating, transforming, and retrieving useful information;

building and maintaining electronic repositories of information;

creating and distributing information electronically;

executing and recording commercial, legal, financial, and other business transactions; and,

supporting collaborative work efforts among collocated or remote individuals.

The suppliers would have a differing, but overlapping, set of needs. They would need the NII to:

enable new application product offerings without requiring the creation of all of the supporting software;

facilitate the encoding and transport of data between locations and between networks;

translate data from one language representation to another; and

support the migration of existing data files, data bases and programs from older legacy systems to more modern systems.

If, and whether, suppliers and users start availing the services of the NII, would be dependent upon a conducive infrastructure. Government, by its regulatory and policy-making function, can facilitate creation of such an infrastructure.

U.S. Government

No single authority, including the U.S. Government, has the capability to develop, mandate or legislate a coherent services framework within which individual commercial competitive solutions can coexist and interact. Nevertheless, Government would provide the leadership and vision to guide this process, to balance the interests of the many NII stakeholders, and to influence the shape of the information infrastructure. The Administration has clearly indicated that the construction of the NII will be undertaken by the private sector. Businesses, on the other hand, are primarily motivated by pursuit of profits and competitive advantage. Paradoxically, the established regulatory processes tend to constrain earnings and market power, and hence represent a formidable roadblock to private investment (Egan, 1994). In this scenario, the primary role of the Government is to prevent the over-regulation of competitive entries into the information service markets. Although the Government will not build the NII, it will coordinate standards and provide monetary support to ensure that low income areas and non-profit organizations are included (Lou, 1994). Its major issues involve universal access. All the levels of Government will have the roles to play in ensuring the effective development and deployment of the NII. The Government will ensure vigorous competition, fair access, basic levels of services, and interoperability , and provide privacy and security protection for all NII's users. Government's main role is in ensuring the coordination of regulatory and policy-making efforts at Federal, state and local levels to complement the NII vision.

The Administration, through the formulation of various coordinating agencies for NII and through its rounds of speeches and meetings is following an ongoing political/policy making process that is designed to establish some coordination and cooperation, as opposed to having the different Government and private sector bodies going in different directions (Stewart and Pearce, 1994).

The role of the Government as the country's largest user of information technology should not be overlooked. In this role, the Government can develop NII applications to speed and improve the delivery of services.

Federal Agencies

A number of federal agencies are involved in the commercial development of the NII. Several of them are working together closely to develop, coordinate, and implement R&D strategies and policies in support of the NII initiative. A brief review of some of the key agencies is given here. For more detailed information, please refer Appendix 3.

The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) is a permanent, cabinet-level body, chaired by the President of the United States, which prepares R&D strategies that are coordinated across Federal agencies. NSTC, operating through the Committee on Information and Communications (CIC), is responsible for R&D technology policy, strategic planning, and interagency coordination related to information and communications technologies. It leads the Federal R&D community in its support for National and Global Information Infrastructure technology developments. The CIC oversees the Federal High Performance Computing and Communications and Information Technology (HPCCIT) initiative, which is developing the technologies needed for dramatic improvements in information services for the future NII. The goal of the Federal High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Program is to accelerate the development of future generations of high performance computers and networks and the use of these resources in the Federal Government and throughout the American economy. Scalable high performance computers, advanced high speed computer communications networks, and advanced software are critical components of a new NII.

The Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF), chaired by the Secretary of Commerce, was created by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Economic Council (NEC) to ensure that the entire Federal Government acts in concert to accelerate deployment and use of the NII. The White House formed the IITF to articulate and implement the Administration's vision for the NII. Working together with the private sector, the participating agencies will develop comprehensive technology, telecommunications, and information policies and promote applications that best meet the needs of both the agencies and the country. By helping build consensus on difficult policy issues, the IITF will enable agencies to make and implement policy more quickly and effectively. Three IITF Committees have been established: Telecommunications Policy, Information Policy, and Applications and Technology. The Technology Policy Working Group (TPWG) of the Committee on Applications and Technology (CAT) is designated to work with the technology development community to serve as a catalyst to promote technological innovation, to stimulate the private sector to develop and adopt technologies for a highly capable NII, and to identify and reduce barriers to implementation. Figure 2 illustrates the present organizational structure of the NII.

The National Performance Review (NPR) Report and its accompanying report on Reengineering Through Information Technology (NPR IT), recommended the establishment of a Government Information Technology Services (GITS) Working Group. That group, established formally under the IITF's Committee on Applications and Technology, has been empowered to facilitate the implementation of the NPR IT report and act as a focal point for improvements in the way Government uses information technology and the NII to deliver information and services.

The National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIIAC) was created by an executive order at the end of 1993. The NIIAC represents many of the key constituencies with a stake in the NII, including private industry; state and local governments; community, public interest, education, and labor groups; creators and distributors of content; privacy and security advocates; and leading experts in NII-related fields. The NIIAC has specifically focused on: defining the roles of the public and private sectors; maintaining the balance of protection of intellectual property rights of creators and copyright owners with the needs of users; generating national strategies for developing applications in electronic commerce, manufacturing, education and lifelong learning, health care, Government information and services, and public safety; conceiving approaches to maximize interconnection and interoperability of networks; and addressing the important issues of privacy and security.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) contributes to the NII by funding high-risk industrial ventures, performing laboratory research, and participating in policy and standards formation to ensure that the technologies are available for real-life applications of the NII. As part of the Government's multi-agency initiative to formulate a vision and strategy for the NII, the NIST Director chairs the Committee on Applications and Technology of the Information Infrastructure Task Force, which is studying how innovative technologies will help people do their jobs in new and different ways. The committee coordinates Government- wide efforts to develop information technology applications and recommend technology policy.

The Private Sector

The private sector must have primary responsibility for the design, deployment, and operation of the NII. The private sector, in collaboration with a variety of user groups, should continue to design the NII, and develop the high quality products and innovative services. The NII will not be built by a single entity, but by numerous existing institutions that can provide content or the ability for end-users to communicate with one another. The main players will be the telcos, Internet, and the cable companies (Chan, 1994). Private industry will be responsible for virtually every major facet of the NII and the information marketplace it creates. Private industry will build and manage the networks, provide the information tools and much of the information that travels the networks, and develop the many of the applications that use the networks. According to some estimates, the private investment on the NII will be of the order of $2 trillion to $3 trillion, while Government's share will be around $100 billion (Hoving, 1994).

An essential step in the evolution of the NII is the convergence of a host of discrete information industries into one. Most important among these is the integration of the telephony and CATV networks. This convergence is occurring primarily because of changing technological and competitive forces. The integration of these networks is not only inevitable but will provide significant benefits in the area of economics, education and the environment (Oliver, 1995). The NII debate has focused too much on the Federal Government's role in building the fiber optic highway. Private providers such as AT&T, NYNEX, Time-Warner, TCI, and Teleport are now building and will continue to build the vast majority of such highways in the U.S. (Hargadon, 1993).

Companies such as AT&T, MCI Communications and Sprint Corp are preparing their long-distance networks to provide the bandwidth that will be required by the NII. While cable companies and Baby Bells are establishing broadband on-ramp connections to the NII, the long distance carriers are upgrading their national networks which are to serve as the long-term backbones of the NII. The telecommunications carriers are working to provide sufficient bandwidth for interactive, multimedia services and to make it easier for wide area network users to exchange data at high speed. Sprint and MCI are also quietly participating in test projects and talking with information providers. AT&T is engaging in more aggressive planning and is looking for new opportunities that make use of its telecommunications and computer businesses (Smally and Patch, 1993).

The so-called 'information highway,' better referred to as the convergence of computing and telephony, will be centered around the microcomputer and will use PCs to bring new entertainment services at home. Cable TV and telephone companies are betting that consumers will want new interactive and pay- per-view services. Some argue that only the PC has enough power, flexibility and control to achieve true convergence, while others say that a television equipped with an intelligent cable box will be the primary information-highway interface. Intel is working with General instruments and Zenith Electronics to prepare devices that will link cable services and PCs. Silicon Graphics Inc has associated with Scientific- Atlanta and Time Warner to deliver on-demand video; Scientific-Atlanta, Kalieda and Motorola are developing a new Malibu Graphics Controller chip for set-top boxes that will act as a 'convergence builder.' The average PC is not yet ready to become a convergence device; 64-bit data paths, a multitasking operating system, fast video and large amounts of storage are needed for PCs to handle video (Derfler, 1994).

Various types of collaborations and partnerships will help promote the NII. The Collaboratory on Information Infrastructure will try to make prototypes based on NII technologies. The Collaboratory is promoted by Bellcore along with the Regional Bell Operating Companies and eight companies in other fields. The Cross Industry Working Team (XIWT) will attempt to standardize NII architectures across industries. The XIWT is a group of 28 companies from the computer, telecommunications, cable and information industries. The American Public Information Coalition (APIC) will try to provide access to the NII via means other than cable and telecommunications. The APIC is a collection of public power companies. Analysts say that the alliances show that companies cannot fulfill the NII's vast potential by themselves (Patch, 1993).

The development of the NII will also unravel the emergence of new types of service providers that compete with traditional institutions for customers. For instance, high-powered telecommunications and cable giants, such as AT&T, may seek to become the carriers for financial services as well as other products that move along the network and elbow banks out of this loop. Every time consumers perform banking by phone, the telecommunications companies can monitor their transactions and then market directly to them based on the information (Iacobuzio, 1993). The growth of the NII may thus result in redefinition of the roles played by organizations in different industries. In almost all such situations, the battle will be primarily for winning the consumers dollar votes.

The Consumers

The most significant Internet development of 1993 was the sudden growth of mainstream awareness of the Internet. This represents a dramatic crossover into popular culture for a medium that until very recently was the obscure and private enclave of a technical elite, and portends new Internet demographics that will change the state of the Internet more profoundly than growth, new services, or new technology (Chapin, 1994). The vision of the future looks something like this. By harnessing the National Information Infrastructure (NII), factory workers, teachers, physicians, children, and civil servants will spur growth in the US economy and increase national competitiveness. Information will become an accepted currency in our society (Benhamou, 1994). Yet, a prerequisite for the realization of this vision of the future is the competitiveness of the market for the various information products and services.

The experience of the competitive consumer-electronics market suggests that when consumers have access to commercially available equipment, the quality, style, and features of products increase and the prices decrease. The essence of this argument can be grasped by contrasting the highly competitive telephone- equipment and personal-computer markets with the current cable industry. Because of the virtual non-competitiveness of the cable industry, many customers are stuck with unattractive set-top cable boxes, which also disable many features of their TVs and VCRs.

Despite the mainstream awareness about Information Superhighway, most organizations have yet to realize any tangible applications on the NII. This is evident from a recent survey of IS executives conducted by the CIO magazine (Buchanan, 1994). The survey revealed that about fifty percent of the respondents believe that the information highway would prove useful or critical to their organizations, yet less than 5% of their businesses are currently using the Internet in any formal or systematic way. Nearly seventy-five percent respondents rarely or never used Internet for their own jobs. Most had trouble envisioning applications that NII might eventually generate, although a few are already making strategic progress from the Internet or at least making serious preparations for it (Buchanan, 1994).

Another perspective of analyzing the users stakeholders could be the key application areas identified by IITF. The report (IITF Committee on Applications and Technology, 1994a) issued by IITF identified eight potential applications for the NII. The report describes the existing activities in the areas, the goals for future applications and how those goals can be reached.

The first application deals with providing access to the Information Superhighway for people with disabilities. The report highlights "full participation by citizens with disabilities in the design, pilot demonstrations and implementation of NII applications is a national priority." The second application identified by the report is electric power, which outlines how communications and computing technologies can improve the production, consumption and management of electric power. The third application, "Intelligent Transportation Systems," delineates how to increase the safety and efficiency of the nation's transportation system by monitoring traffic situations and by providing travel information such as weather, accidents, detours and alternative routes. The fourth application discusses the benefits of speedy information access for telecommuting. The fifth application deals with disaster and emergency management. The seventh application deals with maintenance of non-profit cultural institutions. The final paper deals with the deterrence of violent crime by using the applications from NII in security, law enforcement and criminal justice. The users in these key application areas would also be the stakeholders in the sense that the benefits of the NII are targeted towards them.

Consumer Protection Groups

Groups like CPSR (Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility), EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), COCA (Clearinghouse on Computer Accommodation), American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee, etc. would be serving the purpose of protecting the rights of various groups of users of information. Such groups are important for ensuring that consumers rights, such as privacy, security, rights to intellectual property, are not transgressed by overzealous regulators or profit-motivated providers of the networks and the services.

Preceding discussion provided a quick perspective of the major stakeholders of the NII - the Government, the federal agencies, the private sector, and the final customers of information. Although, specific stakeholder subgroups have not been identified, previously mentioned groups would include sub-categories such as educational institutions, libraries, various non-profit agencies, etc.

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