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Roger Clarke's 'Networked Nation'

Information Infrastructure for The Networked Nation

Roger Clarke

Principal, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

Version of 25 November 1994

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 1994

This Monograph was published as a contribution to policy debates associated with the investigations undertaken by the Commonwealth Government's Broadband Expert Services Group during 1994 (which co-opted this author's term 'Networked Nation' as the title of its own report)

A conference paper was published as `Vision for a Networked Nation: The Public Interest in Network Services' Proc. Conf. Int'l Telecomms Soc., Sydney, July 1994 (with T. Worthington)

A brief summary was published as 'Information Infrastructure Policy Issues' Policy 10,3 (Spring 1994)

This document is at http://www.rogerclarke.com/II/NetNation.html


Abstract

This monograph sets out to lay a foundation for informed debate about the nature of the emergent information infrastructure, by identifying the choices that we need to confront, now.

The primary form of information infrastructure, the Internet, is described at a level of detail appropriate to the nature of the debate. This includes outlines of the Internet's architecture, the elements that make it up, and the services that are available over it. The opportunities that the Internet has created are introduced.

The body of the monograph examines the political economy of the Internet, with particular reference to the social and economic interests of the public. A range of policy issues are identified, and the roles of government considered. Alternative means of funding information infrastructure are examined.

It is critical to the fate of the networked nation that the public's interest in services, and in the underlying infrastructure, be reflected at all stages in its development and use. Specific, targetted government actions are identified that will contribute to the process. Excessive governmental involvement in activities that will develop satisfactorily anyway, would, on the other hand, retard and distort the available services and the underlying infrastructure.


Review

By Karin Geiselhart, as part of her doctoral work at Uni. Canberra

[This document] clearly set out the importance of this infrastructure in determining Australia's future well being. Recognising that important social values are at stake, he attempted to 'informate' the debate, so that policy settings can be 'identified, articulated and implemented which will exploit the opportunities rather than the people.' In describing the stakeholders in the political economy of the information infrastructure, he noted that 'the set of interests least likely to be powerfully represented is those of the public.' He made a strong argument for explicit inclusion of the public interest in the development of this infrastructure, and gave the elements of this public interest which would need attention. The ability to perform multiple roles, as providers of content, not just passive accepters, and the need for sufficient training to make good use of access were both seen as essential.

These were needed for a 'participatively-oriented' infrastructure, which in turn would unleash the creative forces necessary to become a clever country. He advocated openness of systems, content and delivery, along with 'relative bandwidth symmetry', implying equal access as either provider or consumer. Avoiding an engineering approach was also important.

He recognised the global nature of the infrastructure, and the need to take a national path while ensuring ability to participate in this global system. He warned of corporate domination of the agenda, and likewise the possible destruction of collaborative community through commercialisation.

He advocated encouragement of the non-profit sector, 'where sufficient voluntary energy and commitment are forthcoming', and pursuit of equity across social and geographic groups and economic sectors. The role for government was outlined as protecting public interests, including reversing the trend towards charging for government information and ensuring freedom from surveillance, and establishing clear socio-economic objectives. This would require government investment, particularly in the early years. There was detailed discussion on possible pricing structures consistent with these goals, which recognised the role of shared norms and values in avoiding the 'tragedy of the commons' on the information superhighway.

Clarke concluded that government must recognise the importance of its multiple roles as leader, stimulator, co-ordinator, facilitator and regulator. His monograph was an informed and strongly normative analysis of how Australia should proceed down this complex path. It provided a guide consistent with the definitions of democratic process used in this thesis, which can assist in evaluating subsequent government statements of policy for the information infrastructure.


Contents

Preface

  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

Bibliography

Attachments

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

Preface

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 link@wombat.anu.edu.au, 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), abstract at http://www.rogerclarke.com/II/AbstractIIRes.html

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, at http://www.acs.org.au/president/1997/acsnet/acsnet.htm

Clarke R.A. (1994b) 'The Digital Persona and Its Application to Data Surveillance' The Information Society 10,2 (June 1994), at http://www.rogerclarke.com/DV/DigPersona.html

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, at http://www.rogerclarke.com/II/PaperNSCF.html

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

For at least thirty years, the feeling has been in the air that a major shift in civilisation was occurring or about to occur. In the search for a suitable descriptor for this new age, a variety of terms have been coined and catalysts nominated. Boulding used 'post-civilisation', and McLuhan 'the global village'. Toffler coined 'the super-industrial society' to mean "a complex, fast-paced society dependent upon extremely advanced technology and a post-materialist value system" (1970, p.444), but the term had shorter currency than did 'future shock', and he now prefers 'third wave society' (1980, 1972-85). Perhaps the most influential was Bell's 'post-industrial society' (Bell, 1973), originally coined to refer to the growth of services in general.

Such terms have, however, been progressively replaced by 'the information society'. In 1968, Drucker asserted that "knowledge, during the last few decades, has become the central capital, the cost centre and the crucial resource of the economy" (1968, p.9). He identified the 'information industry' as the first of four new industries already in sight (the others were the oceans, materials and the megalopolis - with no sign of bio-technology) (1968, pp.39-44).

Masuda (1981), Jones (1982) and Stonier (1983) popularised the term 'information society' (see also Cawkwell 1987). Naisbitt (1982) committed his first chapter to "the megashift from an industrial to an information society ... it is no longer an idea - it is a reality ... an economic reality, not an intellectual abstraction" (pp. 11, 20). Naisbitt traces the commencement of the information society to 1956-57, when white-collar workers for the first time overtook blue-collar employment in the U.S., and Sputnik foreshadowed the era of global satellite communications. Central among the tenets of post-industrial and information society futurism are greatly increased decentralisation of power and fluidity of organisation.

A great deal of excitement has been generated by the initiative of the United States' Clinton/Gore Administration generally referred to as the 'National Information Infrastructure' (NII). Australia, too, is a very active participant in the information society and its economy. It has one of the world's best basic telecommunications services; and designs and manufactures some of the world's best information technology products. By enforcing a requirement on major international suppliers of information technology to enter into partnerships with Australian companies, and manufacture in Australia for both domestic and export sale, a very serious trade deficit in IT products has been successfully addressed. We can do better. We can participate actively in the global information structure, as providers of services, not just as consumers.

The opportunities have not gone unnoticed by either corporations or regulators. The direction of telecommunications policy in Australia has been and continues to be the subject of very active discussion, and has attracted considerable public attention. During the second half of 1994, three consortia were busily investing in infrastructure to support pay television, one using microwave technology and the other two cable. The two sets of cabling could be merely a highly expensive exercise in TV and entertainment alone, or could provide the basis for a rich set of next-generation electronic services to commercial and domestic consumers.

The Commonwealth Government's White Paper on industry of early 1994 included a commitment to implement electronic commerce throughout government during the coming three years, providing a further impetus to infrastructure questions. The policy places particular emphasis on Australia's large numbers of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). A meeting between Bill Gates and Paul Keating in mid-1994 gained a significant amount of media coverage, and resulted in a commitment, embodied in the Prime Minister's speech to the Labor National Congress in September 1994, to the information infrastructure as a cornerstone of Australia's economic development. During the fourth quarter of 1994, the government also announced initiatives in relation to the export of telecommunications equipment and services, and launched its new cultural policy, which included investment in the multi-media industry, and a rapprochement with Rupert Murdoch in return for the establishment of a substantial film industry park in Sydney.

At deeper levels, at least three government committees were active during 1994 in addressing various aspects of the matter (ASTEC 1994, A-G 1994, BSEG 1994), a government research unit was pursuing a major study (BTCE 1994a-e), and several other committees and studies were unable to address their primary concern without some consideration of the topic. A Senate Standing Committee was also discussing the Parliament's role.

Discussions about infrastructure have traditionally related to the means whereby physical transportation is facilitated, and has focussed on ports, railways and major roads. One of the features of the emergent 'information economy' and 'information society' is the need for investment in the underlying facilities upon which economically and socially valuable communications are based. The purpose of this monograph is to provide background to the debates, and present a preliminary analysis of the political economy of the emergent Australian information infrastructure.

The document commences by reviewing the origins of the movement. Particular attention is given to the Internet, that inter-networking arrangement which is delivering to millions of users the ability to communicate with one another largely irrespective of their current locations, and to access a wide range of electronic data-sources and services. The international, rather than merely national, character of the information infrastructure is highlighted.

The nature of an information infrastructure, and the elements that it comprises, are then presented. This leads to a discussion of the kinds of services which are, and are likely to become available using the infrastructure. The implications of these new capabilities are assessed, primarily by examining the pioneer usage among the research community.

The way in which the shape of the information infrastructure will be determined is then discussed. Metaphors are heavily used in popular and political discussions, and helpful and misleading aspects of the currently popular metaphors are assessed. The players in the drama, and their motivations, are identified. Particular attention is paid to the public interest.

This leads to the identification of a wide range of policy issues, culminating in proposals regarding the role of the Commonwealth Government in establishing and sustaining the information infrastructure. Conclusions are then drawn.

The current enthisiasm for the information infrastructure gives rise to twin fears: on the one hand, that corporate exuberance will produce results far from those optimal for Australian society; and on the other, that this new and exciting realm will be subjected to regulation which will distort the playing-field, and squeeze the lifeblood out of genuine entrepreneurs. The motivation of this monograph is to 'informate' the debate, such that policy settings can be identified, articulated and implemented, which will exploit the opportunities rather than the people.


This is the first part of a multi-part Monograph. Chapter 2 is at http://www.rogerclarke.com/II/NetN2.html.



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From the site's beginnings in August 1994 until February 2009, the infrastructure was provided by the Australian National University. During that time, the site accumulated close to 30 million hits. It passed 50 million in early 2015.

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Created: 15 October 1995 - Last Amended: 28 October 1998; Review added 30 January 1999 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 15 February 2009
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