Information Infrastructure
The Networked Nation

Roger Clarke
Australian National University

A 70-page Working Paper, Version of November 1994

© Australian National University, 1994

The term 'infrastructure' is generally used to refer to capital which is used in common by many different people and organisations, such as road and rail systems, and seaports. It has often been claimed that we are in the midst of transition between the industrial era and the information economy and society. If so, then considerable attention needs to be paid to what has come to be known as 'the information infrastructure'. This monograph is written in the conviction that not only is this contention justified, but also that decisions are being made now that will determine the extent to which Australia is a successful participant in this brave new world.

From a national strategic perspective, justifying the importance of the information infrastructure is straightforward: a 'clever country' lives or dies economically on the basis of the cleverness and commitment of its people, and creativity depends on the establishment and maintenance of associations among people, and the free flow of ideas.

At the corporate level, in order to exploit their staff's innate creativity, most successful corporations have been de-emphasising hierarchy, and instead focusing on process. Middle-management layers have been thinned. Co-ordination is implemented as process rather than as policy manual. Employees are increasingly mobile, and close to the corporation's suppliers and clients. Non-core activities are increasingly outsourced to trustworthy contractors. The existing dominance of small business in the generation of wealth is actually increasing. To support this more dynamic pattern of corporate activity, communications must be sophisticated in terms of the services available, but simple, reliable, robust and resilient in their use, and inexpensive.

The information age creates exciting possibilities for imaginative businessmen not only in domestic, but also in world markets. It also has significant implications for central business districts, for regionalisation, for middle-distance travel patterns, for commuter traffic, and for traffic-generated pollution. The kind of economy that we bequeath will be determined in large measure by the information infrastructure we establish in the current, critical five years before the turn of the century.

There are important social values at stake too. It was originally presumed that computers were essentially centralist, and that the adage 'information is power' implied that governments would exercise increasing influence over people's behaviour. 'Computing' has matured into 'information technology' or 'IT', an increasingly integrated complex of processors, software, data storage, local and distant communications, and robotics. Our appreciation of IT's role has matured too. We now understand that it can support authoritarian regimes and repression, or democracy and freedoms.

The information infrastructure's architecture can be biased in favour of large organisations and against small business and individuals. Or it can be conceived and developed as a facility which creates potential for business generally, and for people. This monograph is designed to lay the foundation for informed debate about the nature of the emergent information infrastructure, and to identify the choices which we need to confront, now.

The preparation of this monograph has depended on many sources. In addition to the formal references in the bibliography, I have been particularly assisted by materials from the e-mailing list, and conversations with and materials acquired from Tony Barry of the A.N.U.'s Centre for Networked Access to Scholarly Information, Eric Wainwright, Deputy National Librarian, Colin Steele, A.N.U. Librarian, and Tom Worthington, Director of the Australian Computer Society's Community Affairs Board.

Earlier versions of some of the material appeared in the following papers:

Clarke R.A. (1994a) 'Electronic Support for Research Practice' in Mulvaney & Steele (1993). Revised version in The Information Society 10,1 (March 1994)

Clarke R.A. (1993) 'The Economics of Research Use of the Internet' Proc. Conf. Networking'93, AARNet, Melbourne, 30 Nov - 3 Dec 1993

Clarke R.A. & Worthington T. (1994) 'Vision for a Networked Nation: The Public Interest in Network Services' Proc. Conf. Int'l Telecommunications Soc., Sydney, July 1994

Clarke R.A. (1994b) 'The Digital Persona and Its Application to Data Surveillance' The Information Society 10,2 (June 1994)

Clarke R.A. (1994c) 'The Information Age As Threat' Address to a Symposium on 'Public Access to Networked Information', National Scholarly Communications Forum, Canberra, 13 October 1994

My especial thanks to Tom Worthington, Director of Community Affairs of the Australian Computer Society, who co-authored the paper which forms the basis for the public interest segment of this monograph.

22 November 1994


  1. Introduction
  2. Information Infrastructure
    1. History
    2. A Prototype Information Infrastructure - The Internet
    3. Elements and Architecture
    4. Services
  3. Opportunities, Impact and Implications
  4. The Political Economy of the Information Infrastructure
    1. Alternative Metaphors
    2. Stakeholders and Their Interests
    3. The Public's Social Interests
    4. The Public's Economic Interests
    5. Conclusions
  5. Policy Considerations
    1. Public Fears About Information Infrastructure Initiatives
    2. The Role of Government in Information Infrastructure
    3. The Role of Government in Services Provision
  6. Funding the Information Infrastructure
    1. Introduction
    2. The Funding of Services
    3. The Funding of Infrastructure
    4. Conclusion
  7. Conclusions



  1. An Overview of the Internet and AARNet
  2. The New Electronic Support Technologies


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