"The National Information Infrastructure"
January 11, 1994
It's great to be here at the Television Academy today. I feel I have a lot in common with those of you who are members of the Academy. I was on Letterman. I wrote my own lines.
I'm still waiting for residuals.
At first, I thought this could lead to a whole new image. And maybe a new career. No more Leno jokes about being stiffer than the Secret Service. Maybe an opportunity to do other shows. I was elated when "Star Trek: The Next Generation" wanted me to do a guest shot -- until I learned they wanted me to replace Lieutenant Commander Data.
The historian Daniel Boorstin once wrote that for Americans "nothing has happened unless it is on television." This of course leaves out a few major events in our history. But this meeting today is on television -- so apparently this event is actually occurring.
I join you to outline not only this Administration's vision of the National Information Infrastructure but our proposals for creating it.
Last month in Washington, I set forth some of the principles behind our vision. Today I'll talk about the legislative package necessary to ensure the creation of that national infrastructure in a manner which will connect and empower the citizens of this country through broadband, interactive communication.
We've all become used to stumbling over clichés in our efforts to describe the enormity of change now underway and the incredible speed with which it is taking place. Often we call it a revolution -- the digital revolution.
Speaking of clichés, I often use the analogy to autos, saying that if cars had advanced as rapidly as computer chips in recent years, a Rolls Royce would go a million miles an hour and cost twenty-five cents.
The last time I used it was at a meeting of computer experts and one of them said, "Yeah -- but that Rolls Royce would be one millimeter long."
What we've seen in the last decade is amazing. But it's nothing compared to what will happen in the decade ahead. The world revolution by no means overstates the case.
But this revolution is based on traditions that go far back in our history.
Since the transcontinental telegraph that transmitted Abraham Lincoln's election victory to California in real time, our ability to communicate electronically has informed and shaped America.
It was only a year before that election that the Pony Express was the talk of the nation, able to send a message cross country in seven days. The next year, it was out of business.
Today's technology has made possible a global community united by instantaneous information and analysis. Protesters at the Berlin Wall communicated with their followers through CNN news broadcasts. The fax machine connected us with demonstrators at Tiananmen Square.
So it's worth remembering that while we talk about this digital revolution as if it's about to happen, in many places it's already underway. Even in the White House.
The day after Inauguration, I was astonished to see how relatively primitive the White House communications system was. President Clinton and I took a tour and found operators actually having to pull cords for each call and plug them into jacks. It reminded me of the switchboard used by Ernestine, the Lily Tomlin character.
And there were actually phones like these all over the White House. They're still there. But we made progress. They're only in the press room now.
Those phones didn't meet our needs. So now, especially on trips, I use a cellular phone.
Our new ways of communicating will entertain as well as inform. More importantly, they will educate, promote democracy, and save lives. And in the process they will also create a lot of new jobs. In fact, they're already doing it.
The impact on America's businesses will not be limited just to those who are in the information business either. Virtually every business will find it possible to use these new tools to become more competitive. And by taking the lead in quickly employing these new information technologies, America's businesses will gain enormous advantages in the worldwide marketplace. And that is important because if America is to prosper, we must be able to manufacture goods within our borders and sell them not just in Tennessee but Tokyo -- not just in Los Angeles but Latin America.
Last month, when I was in Central Asia, the President of Kyrgyzstan told me his eight-year-old son came to him and said, "Father, I have to learn English."
"But why?" President Akayev asked.
"Because, father, the computer speaks English."
By now, we are becoming familiar with the ability of the new communications technologies to transcend international boundaries and bring our world closer together. But many of you are now in the process of transcending other old boundaries -- the boundary lines which have long defined different sectors of the information industry. The speed with which these boundaries are eroding is quite dramatic.
I'm reminded of an idea of Stephen Hawking, the British physicist. Hawking has Lou Gehrig's disease. But thanks to information technology he can still communicate not only to his students and colleagues but to millions around the world. Incidentally, I read the other day that his voice box has an American accent -- because it was developed here in California.
Anyway, in that American accent, Hawking has speculated about a distant future, when the universe stops expanding and begins to contract. Eventually, all matter comes colliding together in a "Big Crunch," which scientists say could then be followed by another "Big Bang" -- a universe expanding outward once again.
Our current information industries -- cable, local telephone, long distance telephone, television, film, computers, and others -- seem headed for a Big Crunch/Big Bang of their own. The space between these diverse functions is rapidly shrinking -- between computers and televisions, for example, or inter-active communications and video.
But after the next Big Bang, in the ensuing expansion of the information business, the new marketplace will no longer be divided along current sectoral lines. There may not be cable companies or phone companies or computer companies, as such. Everyone will be in the bit business. The functions provided will define the marketplace. There will be information conduits, information providers, information appliances and information consumers.
That's the future. It's easy to see where we need to go. It's hard to see how to get there. When faced with the enormity and complexity of the transition some retreat to the view best enunciated by Yogi Berra when he said:
"What we have here is an insurmountable opportunity."
Not long ago this transition did indeed seem too formidable to contemplate, but no longer. Because a remarkable consensus has emerged throughout our country -- in business, in public interest groups and in government. This consensus begins with agreement on the right, specific questions we must answer together.
How can government ensure that the information marketplace emerging on the other side of the Big Crunch will permit everyone to be able to compete with everyone else for the opportunity to provide any service to all willing customers? How can we ensure that this new marketplace reaches the entire nation? How can we ensure that it fulfills the enormous promise of education, economic growth and job creation?
Today I will provide the Administration's answers to those questions. But before I do let me state my firm belief that legislative and regulatory action alone will not get us where we need to be. This Administration argued in our National Performance Review last year, that government often acts best when it sets clear goals, acts as a catalyst for the national teamwork required to achieve them, then lets the private and non-profit sector, move the ball downfield.
It was in this spirit that then-Governor Clinton and I, campaigning for the White House in 1992, set as a vital national goal linking every classroom in every school in the United States to the National Information Infrastructure.
It was in this same spirit that less than a month ago, I pointed out that when it comes to telecommunications services, schools are the most impoverished institutions in society.
And so I was pleased to hear that some companies participating in the communications revolution are now talking about voluntarily linking every classroom in their service areas to the NII.
Let me be clear. I challenge you, the people in this room, to connect all of our classrooms, all of our libraries, and all of our hospitals and clinics by the year 2000. We must do this to realize the full potential of information to educate, to save lives, provide access to health care and lower medical costs.
Our nation can and must meet this challenge. The best way to do so is by working together. Just as communications industries are moving to the unified information market-place of the future, so must we move from the traditional adversarial relationship between business and government to a more productive relationship based on consensus. We must build a new model of public-private cooperation that, if properly pursued, can obviate many governmental mandates.
But make no mistake about it -- one way or another, we will meet this goal.
As I announced last month, we will soon introduce a legislative package that aggressively confronts the most pressing telecommunications issues, and is based on five principles.
This Administration will:
-- Encourage Private Investment
-- Provide and Protect Competition
-- Provide Open Access to the Network
-- Take Action to Avoid Creating a Society of Information "Haves" and "Have Nots"
-- Encourage Flexible and Responsive Governmental Action.
Many of you have our White Paper today, outlining the bill in detail. If you didn't get your copy, it's available on the Internet, right now.
Let me run through the highlights with you -- and talk about how they grow out of our five principles.
We begin with two of our basic principles -- the need for private investment and fair competition. The nation needs private investment to complete the construction of the National Information Infrastructure. And competition is the single most critical means of encouraging that private investment.
I referred earlier to the use of the telegraph in 1860, linking the nation together. Congress funded Samuel Morse's first demonstration of the telegraph in 1844. Morse then suggested that a national system be built with federal funding. But Congress said no, that private investment should build the information infrastructure. And that's what happened -- to the great and continuing competitive advantage of this country.
Today we must choose competition again and protect it against both suffocating regulation on the one hand and unfettered monopolies on the other.
To understand why competition is so important, let's recall what has happened since the breakup of AT&T ten years ago this month.
As recently as 1987, AT&T was still projecting that it would take until the year 2010 to convert 95 percent of its long distance network to digital technology.
Then it became pressed by the competition. The result? AT&T made its network virtually 100 percent digital by the end of 1991. Meanwhile, over the last decade the price of interstate long distance service for the average residential customer declined over 50 percent.
Now it is time to take the next step. We must open the local telephone exchanges, those wires and switches that link homes and offices to the local telephone companies.
The pressure of competition will be great -- and it will drive continuing advancements in technology, quality and cost. One businessman told me recently that he was accelerating his investment in new technology to avoid ending up as "roadkill" on the information superhighway.
To take one example of what competition means, cable companies, long distance companies, and electric utilities must be free to offer two-way communications and local telephone service. To accomplish this goal, our legislative package will establish a federal standard that permits entry to the local telephone markets. Moreover, the FCC will be authorized to reduce regulation for telecommunications carriers that lack market power.
We expect open competition to bring lower prices and better services. But let me be clear: We insist upon safeguards to ensure that new corporate freedoms will not be translated into sudden and unjustified rate increases for telephone consumers.
The advancement of competition will necessarily require more opportunity, as well, for the Regional Bell Operating Companies. Current restrictions on their operations are themselves the legacy of the break-up of AT&T and must be re-examined.
This Administration endorses the basic principles of the Brooks-Dingell bill, which proposes a framework for allowing long-distance and local telephone companies to compete against each other.
Regulation and review of this framework should be transferred from the courts to the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.
This process of change must be carefully calibrated. We must make sure that Regional Bells will not be able to use their present monopoly positions as unfair leverage into new lines of business. That is why the Administration supports the approach of the Brooks-Dingell provision that requires the approval of the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission before the Regional Bells may provide inter-exchange services -- most notably long distance.
In working with Congress, the Administration will explore the creation of incentives for the Regional Bells. We want to increase the transparency of those facility-based local services that raise concerns associated with cross-subsidization and abuses of monopoly power.
Our view of the entry of local telephone companies into cable television also balances the advantages of competition against the possibility of competitive abuse. We will continue to bar the acquisition of existing cable companies by telephone companies within their local service areas. We need this limitation to ensure that no single giant entity controls access to homes and offices. But to increase diversity and benefit consumers, we will permit telephone companies to provide video programming over new, open access systems.
Even these measures, however, may not eliminate all scarcity in the local loop -- those information byways that provide the last electronic connection with homes and offices. For some time, in many places, there are likely to be only one or two broadband, interactive wires, probably owned by cable or telephone companies. In the long run, the local loop may contain a wider set of competitors offering a broad range of interactive services, including wireless, microwave and direct broadcast satellite.
But, for now, we cannot assume that competition in the local loop will end all of the accrued market power of past regulatory advantage and market domination.
We cannot permit the creation of information bottlenecks that adversely affect information providers who use the highways as a means of supplying their customers.
Nor can we permit bottlenecks for information consumers who desire programming that may not be available through the wires that enter their homes or offices.
Preserving the free flow of information requires open access, our third basic principle.
How can you sell your ideas, your information, your programs, if an intermediary who is also your competitor has the means to unfairly block your access to customers? We can't subject the free flow of content to artificial constraints at the hands of either government regulators or would-be monopolists.
We must also guard against unreasonable technical obstacles. We know how to do this; we've seen this problem in our past. For example, when railroad tracks were different sizes, a passenger could not travel easily from a town served by one railroad to a town served by another. But the use of standardized tracks permitted the creation of a national system of rail transport.
Accordingly, our legislative package will contain provisions designed to ensure that each telephone carrier's networks will be readily accessible to other users. We will create an affirmative obligation to interconnect and to afford nondiscriminatory access to network facilities, services, functions and information. We must also explore the future of non-commercial broadcasting; there must be public access to the information superhighway.
These measures will preserve the future within the context of our present regulatory structures. But that is not enough. We must move towards a regulatory approach that encourages investment, promotes competition and secures open access. And one that is not just a patchwork quilt of old approaches, but an approach necessary to promote fair competition in the future.
We begin with a simple idea: Similar entities must be treated similarly. But let's be clear: our quest for equal treatment of competing entities will not blind us to the economic realities of the new information marketplace, where apparent similarities may mask important differences.
This idea is best expressed in the story about the man who went into a restaurant and ordered the rabbit stew.
It came, he took a few bites, then called the manager over. "This doesn't taste like rabbit stew!" he said. "It tastes well, it tastes like horsemeat!"
The manager was embarrassed. "I actually ran out of rabbit this morning and I -- well, I put some horsemeat in."
"How much horsemeat?"
"Well -- it's equally divided."
"What's that mean?"
"One horse, one rabbit."
The lesson is obvious. A start-up telephone company isn't the same as a Baby Bell.
What we favor is genuine regulatory symmetry. That means regulation must be based on the services that are offered and the ability to compete -- and not on corporate identity, regulatory history or technological process.
For example, our legislative package will grant the Federal Communications Commission the future authority, under appropriate conditions, to impose non-discriminatory access requirements on cable companies. As cable and telephone service become harder and harder to distinguish, this provision will help to ensure that labels derived from past regulatory structures are not translated into inadvertent, unfair competitive advantages.
As different services are grouped within a single corporate structure, we must ensure that these new, combined entities are not caught in a cross-fire of conflicting and duplicative regulatory burdens and standards. This Administration will not let existing regulatory structures impede or distort the evolution of the communications industry.
In the information marketplace of the future, we will obtain our goals of investment, competition and open access only if regulation matches the marketplace. That requires a flexible, adaptable regulatory regime that encourages the widespread provision of broadband, interactive digital services.
That is why the Administration proposes the creation of an alternative regulatory regime that is unified, as well as symmetrical. Our new regime would not be mandatory, but it would be available to providers of broadband, interactive services. Such companies could elect to be regulated under the current provisions of the Communications Act or under a new title, Title VII, that would harmonize those provisions in order to provide a single system of regulation. These "Title VII" companies would be able to avoid the danger of conflicting or duplicative regulatory burdens. But in return, they would provide their services and access to their facilities to others on a nondiscriminatory basis. The nation would thus be assured that these companies would provide open access to information providers and consumers and the benefits of competition, including lower prices and higher-quality services, to their customers.
This new method itself illustrates one of our five principles -- that government itself must be flexible. Our proposals for symmetrical, and ultimately unified, regulation demonstrate how we will initiate governmental action that furthers our substantive principles but that adapts, and disappears, as the need for governmental intervention changes -- or ends. They demonstrate, as well, the new relationship of which I spoke earlier -- the private and public sectors working together to fulfill our common goals.
The principles that I have described thus far will build an open and free information marketplace. They will lower prices, stimulate demand and expand access to the National Information Infrastructure.
They will, in other words, help to attain our final basic principle -- avoiding a society of information "haves" separate from a society of information "have nots."
There was a Washington Post headline last month:
"Will the 'Information Superhighway' Detour the Poor?"
Not if I have anything to do about it. After all, governmental action to ensure universal service has been part of American history since the days of Ben Franklin's Post Office. We will have in our legislative package a strong mandate to ensure universal service in the future -- an I want to explain why.
We have become an information-rich society. Almost 100 percent of households have radio and television, and about 94 percent have telephone service. Three-quarters of households contain a VCR, about 60 percent have cable, and roughly 30 percent of households have personal computers.
As the information infrastructure expands in breadth and depth, so too will our understanding of the services that are deemed essential. This is not a matter of guaranteeing the right to play video games. It is a matter of guaranteeing access to essential services.
We cannot tolerate -- nor in the long run can this nation afford -- a society in which some children become fully educated and others do not; in which some adults have access to training and lifetime education, and others do not.
Nor can we permit geographic location to determine whether the information highway passes by your door. I've often spoken about my vision of a schoolchild in my home town of Carthage, Tennessee being able to come home, turn on her computer and plug into the Library of Congress. Carthage is a small town. Its population is only about 2,000. So let me emphasize the point: We must work to ensure that no geographic region of the United States, rural or urban, is left without access to broadband, interactive service. Yes, we support opening the local telephone exchange to competition. But we will not permit the dismantling of our present national networks.
All this won't be easy. It is critically important, therefore, that all carriers must be obliged to contribute, on an equitable and competitively neutral basis, to the preservation and advancement of universal service.
The responsibility to design specific measures to achieve these aims will be delegated to the Federal Communications Commission. But they will be required to do so. Our basic goal is simple: There will be universal service; that definition will evolve as technology and the infrastructure advance; and the FCC will get the job done.
Reforming our communications laws is only one element of the Administration's NII agenda. We'll be working hard to invest in critical NII technologies. We'll promote applications of the NII in areas such as scientific research, energy efficiency and advanced manufacturing. We'll work to deliver government services more efficiently. We'll also update our policies to make sure that privacy and copyright are protected in the networked world.
We'll help law enforcement agencies thwart criminals and terrorists who might use advanced telecommunications to commit crimes.
The Administration is working with industry to develop the new technologies needed for the National Information Infrastructure Initiative.
I have been working with the First Lady's Health Care Task Force, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and others to develop ways we can use networks to improve the quality of health care.
Beginning this month, we are concentrating first on the legislative package I outlined earlier. We haven't invented all of the ideas it contains ourselves. Representatives Dingell and Brooks, Markey and Fields -- and Senators Hollings, Inouye, and Danforth have all focused on these issues.
In many ways our legislative goals reflect or complement that work. We expect to introduce our legislative package shortly, and to work with Congress to ensure speedy passage this year of a bill that will stand the test of time.
Our efforts are not, of course, confined only to government. The people in this room, and the private sector in general, symbolize private enterprise.
Our economic future will depend, in a real sense, on your ability to grasp opportunity and turn it into concrete achievement.
As we move into the new era, we must never lose sight of our heritage of innovation and entrepreneurship.
In some ways, we appreciate that heritage more when we see countries without it. Last month, in Russia, I had the chance to see close up a country that tried to hold back the information age -- a country that used to put armed guards in front of copiers. In a way we should be grateful it did; that helped strengthen the desire of the Russian people to end Communism.
My hope is that now Central and Eastern Europe can use technology and the free market to build democracy -- not thwart it.
And my hope is that America, born in revolution, can lead the way in this new, peaceful world revolution.
Let's work on it together.
A few months ago, Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It was a proud -- and signal -- moment for this country: recognition of an African-American woman who has communicated her insight and narrative power to readers all over the world.
In her acceptance speech, Toni Morrison used one version of an old story -- a parable, really -- to make an interesting point. It's of a blind, old woman renowned for her wisdom, and a boy who decides to play a trick on her. He captures a bird, brings it to her cupped in his hands, and says, "Old woman, is this bird alive or dead?"
If she says "Dead," he can set it free. If she says "Alive," the boy will crush the bird.
She thinks, and says, "The answer is in your hands."
Toni Morrison's point is that the future of language in our hands.
As we enter this new millennium, we are learning a new language. It will be the lingua franca of the new age. It is made up of ones and zeros and bits and bytes. But as we master it as we bring the digital revolution into our homes and schools we will be able to communicate ideas, and information -- in fact, entire Toni Morrison novels -- with an ease never before thought possible.
We meet today on common ground, not to predict the future but to make firm the arrangements for its arrival. Let us master and develop this new language together.
The future really is in our hands.