|Agenda for Action in the UK: Continued
10-14 June 1996
Lord Phillips of Ellesmere (Chairman)
The SubCommittee visited Boston (Massachusetts), Washington DC and Raleigh (North Carolina).
1. The SubCommittee was accompanied by Mr Jim Poston (HM ConsulGeneral, Boston), Ms Terri Evans (HM ViceConsul, Press and Public Affairs) and Ms Rosan Kuhn (HM ViceConsul, Commercial) throughout the Boston part of the programme.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2. The SubCommittee was given an introduction to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) by Carl Accardo from the Industrial Liaison Office. The university was founded in 1861 and is one of the leading research universities in the United States. It had an annual revenue of approximately $1.1 billion, including about $60 million from industry. The main areas of industry research at MIT were the life sciences, computer science, multimedia and materials. A staff "rejuvenation programme" of voluntary early retirements had recently reduced the number of faculty to just over 700. Mr Accardo said that the university operated a very proactive patents office staffed by specialists who worked with the professors and encouraged them to patent their work. As a result, MIT was granted 75-100 patents annually which it used to establish new offshoot companies.
3. In the Laboratory for Computer Science, the Sub-Committee met Dr David Clark (Senior Research Scientist in charge of the Advanced Network Architecture group) who has been involved in the development of the Internet since 1975. Dr Clark said that the remaining major problems with the Internet were no longer of a technical nature: the main barrier stopping further developments was a general lack of knowledge and understanding of the Internet by those involved in telecommunications economics and policy.
4. The Internet was described as being more like a computer than a network in that it could be perceived as a platform for many applications depending on the user's needs and preferences. The Internet was thus not something that could be shaped other than by user demands, and its content was a reflection of society even if that meant that 90 per cent of the content was rubbish. What was needed now, and what people would pay for, was a layer of "editorship" to help users make sense of the "information soup".
5. In education it seemed that the best way to help the students was to help the teachers. Experience had shown that teachers wanted network access as a means to break their sense of isolation and many would be prepared to pay $3-5,000 of their own money for access. However, Dr Clark was concerned about the possible consequences of entertainment companies becoming heavily involved in the teaching of primary education through IT, and how these activities were being promoted as a service to society. MIT was not yet packaging its own materials for sale, although it was conducting experiments and evaluations to determine their real value to the teacher and students.
6. The role of Vice-President Al Gore in creating and driving the vision of a National Information Infrastructure (NII) was thought to be important in terms of having a very visible spokesman for the programme. If the USA did not have such a central focus, then Dr. Clark said that they would have to invent one. The Federal government, however, had made it clear that it did not have much money to invest in the vision it was promoting.
7. A concern for continued development of the NII was that new network services to the home, including video on demand and home shopping, had been flops. Cable companies were now resigned to the fact that the only safe way to make money from the networks was to get it direct from the consumer by charging them $30 a month for Internet access, and then let them make of it what they would. Competition would be driven by the speed of access to the networks and cable companies were thus planning to install cable modems (for faster access) in 15 million homes over the next three years. At the same time, Intel had been lobbying telephone companies to make access to ISDN as widely available as possible.
8. Security had become a major issue, particularly for electronic commerce. Companies world wide wanted to have access to encryption so that they could use the Internet safely rather than have to put in their own networks. Dr Clark said that what was needed were levels of encryption appropriate to the material being transmitted. However, if you down loaded encryption software from the Internet it was almost invariably at near military levels and could not be exported from the USA. Indeed it appeared that the US government was trying to impede the rollout of high level encryption technologies by being "actively inconsistent" in its approach to the problem.
9. Professor James Bruce (Vice-President for Information Systems at MIT) was also somewhat critical of governments in general for trying to control the Internet. Using the export laws on encryption as an example, Professor Bruce said that it was already possible for anyone wishing to lie about being a US citizen to import military style encryption software from the USA to their country over the Internet.
10. MIT's investment in the information superhighway has been considerable. Almost everybody was said to have access to the Internet and the internal electronic mail system handled more mail than the whole of some commercial networks. High bandwidth external connections had even been put in to link MIT with parts of the Boston suburbs, to the benefit of faculty working from home. Access to the MIT network was charged to staff and faculty at $25 a month [charging for access is a growing trend in American universities: Nature (6 June 1996) reported that similar charges are now being made throughout the University of California system]. MIT was now looking at the Internet as a means to reduce administration and teaching costs (e.g. through electronic ordering, and distance learning) and another possible development was a major electronic library that would be made available on a subscription basis.
11. Professor Bruce speculated that in the future many universities would become specialists in just a handful of subjects as a greater proportion of teaching moved away from the traditional university sites. The best courses in the most popular subjects from a range of universities would be converted into electronic multimedia format, and then be made available to other universities and individuals as CD ROMs or over the Internet. Funding for the development of these "super courses" would most likely be provided by major corporations.
12. Similar issues were discussed at the MIT Media Laboratory, where the Sub-Committee met Dr Walter Bender (Associate Director of Information Technology), Dr Mitchell Resnick and others. Dr Bender said that lectures were not everything in teaching: even if one used multimedia lectures from the country's best universities, interaction with human teachers would still be of greater importance. There was also little point in spending huge amounts of money on technology without making adequate resources available for training.
13. Dr Resnick demonstrated a computercontrolled Lego robot which was being used successfully in schools to give pupils handson experience of how technology worked. The programme apparently helped to draw members of the class together, and taught underlying principles through experiential learning. The most important theme of MIT's work in education was promoting the use of IT in structured projects. Emphasis was given to helping students at elementary levels to become good learners and to be interested in learning. In another demonstration the Sub-Committee was shown a personalised news system which trawled electronic news reports (from wire services and over the Internet) for items relating to the user's interests. This system was linked to a database which provided background information to the news items and analogies to help the user interpret them in terms of their own reference frame. The system was likely to be an aid to both journalists and to the end consumer reading the news.
TERC (Technology Education Resource Centre)
14. TERC was established in 1965 as a private nonprofit making organisation to promote science and mathematics in the class room. The meeting was hosted by Ken Mayer (from the Communications Office) and other members of TERC staff. The work of TERC was described as being driven by need rather than technology, although the activities described below all depended to a large extent on technology.
15. TERC is currently involved in an ambitious programme to expand educational access to the Internet by teaching children (14-16 year olds) to become experts in network design and installation, starting from simple communications using wires and lights. By the end of the project the children were able to, and did, install the local area network in their own schools.
16. The concept of telecollaboration was important in most of TERC's activities, including programmes to educate teacher trainers over the Internet, and to link schools across the world through an environmental awareness programme called GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment, a programme initiated by Vice-President Al Gore). The inquiry and the data collection were described as the main parts of the programme, while the network aspects allowed one to extend the work and bring in comparisons from elsewhere. The educational content provided through such routes was said to be at least an equivalent to that of using traditional media, but in addition the children also developed good inquiry skills, made contacts with other schools (with something useful to exchange information on), and became excited about learning. The result was that children might then proceed to learn more of the fundamental science behind the basic projects.
Boston Public Schools
17. The SubCommittee met Ann Grady, the Instructional Technology Director for the Boston Public Schools. Ms Grady's office had been responsible for setting up an access programme to bring the Internet into every school (123 schools) and each branch library (24) in the city of Boston. The programme was now running workshops on ethics and curriculum development etc., had set itself the goal of getting four computers into every classroom and was committed to promoting technology as a tool for teaching all subjects. The two main barriers that the programme was facing were insufficient funds, and the need to upgrade the electrical circuitry in most schools before computers and networks could be installed.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
18. The Sub-Committee was given an introduction to Massachusetts by Mr Louis Gutierrez, Chief Information Technologist, Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Mr Gutierrez described government as an information processing and transfer system (particularly if one counted money transactions as information), and it was thus highly suited to improvement and simplification using information technology. The barriers to accomplishing this were not technical, but human.
19. The Massachusetts government was seeking to provide a "one stop shop" for government information, and one of the main jobs of the Information Technology office was to coordinate activities. Libraries were seen as being suitable for general purpose public access points to the information network. The longterm aim was to encourage a full twoway flow of information with electronic commerce and access to government services including drivers licence renewal over the network. Mr Gutierrez said that the present arrangements were fine for low and medium security transactions (equivalent to using a credit card to order goods over a telephone), but that there were problems where higher levels of security were needed. For this they were looking for certification authorities to take care of authentication, although ultimately it might be the Massachusetts government that had to take on this role. An important development had been the passing of a digital signature act in Utah, giving digital signatures the same power as real ones. The uptake of similar legislation in other states was said to be rather slow.
20. At the Federal level, the presence of Vice-President Al Gore as a spokesman for the NII was at least having a loose coordinating effect between activities in each state. The concern was that this might not be sufficient to make sure that full standardisation was achieved, and it was probable that "the wheel would be invented 50 times over".
21. Mass EdOnline is a fiveagency state task force on information technology and education. The SubCommittee met Mr Mike Sentance (Secretary of Education and Education Policy Advisor to the Governor), Ms Lisa Blout (Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education) and Mr David Parker (Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications: MCET). Mass EdOnline's three main goals were to enhance student learning, academic achievement and preparedness for the world of work; to promote the skills, knowledge and performance of teachers; and to improve the efficiency of education management.
22. Massachusetts was said to be significantly behind many other states in investing in technology for education (even though it had been the first colony to have an education mandate, in 1642). It was apparent that the school districts each had their own programmes, were organised very much on a local basis, and that because of this it was often difficult to introduce statewide standards and initiatives. Poorer southern states were now using IT as a way of leapfrogging over the traditional highachiever states. At state level, leadership was thought to be the main factor in developing and successfully using an education technology infrastructure, while funding should be predominantly a local matter.
23. Mass EdOnline was involved in evaluating educational software and doubts were raised over how useful some of the material was. The software market was dominated by the entertainment industry, with education accounting for less than 1 per cent of the market, so there had been little incentive to produce pure educational software. What had been produced was often entertaining addons ("edutainment") designed to promote a publisher's text books.
24. The main areas that Mass EdOnline wished to see developed were in basic skills training, including reading and writing. The Pittsburgh Urban Maths Programme was cited as a good example of how technology could work to develop such skills: the system used artificial intelligence to judge the skill level of the students and adjust the maths training and questioning programmes to a suitable level of difficulty, the system then continued to adapt as the students progressed.
25. Massachusetts would soon be holding a Net Day to promote the connection of public schools to the Internet. The state was providing $600,000 for equipment and services, but would seek donations of computers from local companies, and a significant amount of volunteer time to help with training.
26. The Sub-Committee was accompanied by Dr Don Rolt (Counsellor for Science, Technology, Energy and the Environment at the British Embassy) throughout the Washington and Raleigh parts of the programme.
The National Academy of Sciences
27. Dr Jack Halpern, Vice-President of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), welcomed the Sub-Committee and provided an overview of their activities. Every report to come out of the NAS was now posted on the Internet and was freely available. The NAS was working to extend this accessibility to back reports and to include the journal Proceedings of the National Academy. Members of the NAS discussed information technology aspects of health, research, public policy, industry and education.
28. The two main concerns from the health sector were the need for a basic evaluation programme (to assess what were the real benefits of using information technology in health care), and for a system to protect the confidentiality of patient records while still making them accessible to both emergency services "in the field" and to researchers who needed anonymous data for clinical studies. Intellectual property rights were seen to be the main international problem. In public policy the main areas of concern were how statistics and databases should be managed, who should have access to them, privacy, confidentiality and how to maintain anonymity, and enhancing public confidence in information. From an industry perspective the Internet was viewed as a set of standards on top of which applications could be run. New applications would be limited by the state of the physical network, and those that demanded a major upgrade of the network would have to demonstrate how the extra investment could be recovered. In education a serious problem to be faced was that most classrooms did not have even a simple telephone connection, let alone access to a computer network. The NAS were not involved in the validation of multimedia teaching material, partly because of the difficulty in deciding the criteria for measuring them against and the problem of not being seen to favour one publisher over another.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
29. The Sub-Committee met Dr Bernadette McGuireRivera (Associate Administrator, Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications (OTIA) and other members of staff. The OTIA was looking for a standard to be set for a state average bandwidth, and for schools, libraries and health clinics to have access to the NII at discounted rates. The agency provided seed funding to enable schools to evaluate new technology, however the technological aspects of the NII were described as a small problem, the big issue now being the need to train the users. In terms of regulatory issues, the main barriers to further development were identified as: universal service and its potential impact on society; regulation of information content; and the need for applications to let electronic business take place more effectively, e.g. encryption software.
30. One of the current problems to be highlighted was that of Internet phone services and how or whether they should be regulated. Software was now available to permit fairly good quality voice communication over the Internet which meant that phone calls to anywhere in the world could now be made for the cost of a local call (i.e. "free" or at zero marginal cost in the USA). Such services were not subject to the same regulations and restrictions as standard phone services and this was causing major problems in some sectors of the industry.
The Sub-Committee attended a lunch hosted by HM Ambassador, Sir John Kerr at the British Embassy, Washington.
31. During the discussion, the Ambassador raised the question of how contacts between equivalent committees on either side of the Atlantic could be improved. This had been suggested originally by Newt Gingrich (Speaker of the House of Representatives) who was keen on fostering greater exchanges between legislators, as distinct from governments. The SubCommittee took the opportunity to followup this suggestion with Congressman Brown the following day.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)
32. The Sub-Committee met Dr "Jack" Gibbons, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Dr Mike Nelson and Mr Tom Kahil from the OSTP. Mr Gibbons started by saying that the NII was useless unless it was connected to the outside world, and that the USA was now putting up funds to help 20 African states gain an Internet presence. In the US, government use of the Internet was growing fast and it was now typical for a speech by the Vice-President or President to be online within an hour of it being delivered. However, Dr Gibbons said that he "wished we were as far along as the United Kingdom on open competition and regulations".
33. During the week of the Sub-Committee's visit, the issue of encryption technology was in the public spotlight as Netscape and other organisations lobbied the US government to relax its export regulations (because they were in danger of losing sales if they could not use the same product for home and export markets, with the same high level encryption technology (see ITAA)). Dr Nelson said that the US would not completely remove export controls on encryption technology because of security and public safety issues. A "key recovery" system was favoured where the use of virtually unbreakable encryption would be permitted if a key was made available to security authorities. The question would then be under what circumstances (and by whom) the key would be authorised for use, and in particular whether foreign powers would be given access.
34. Also during the week, the Communications Decency Act (CDA), designed to restrict "indecency" on the Internet, was declared unconstitutional by a court in Philadelphia because its restrictions were considered to be contrary to the First Amendment rights on free speech. Dr Nelson said that posting indecent material on the Internet could still lead to individuals being prosecuted: in general, if something was illegal in print in the USA, then it was also illegal in cyberspace. There would, however, always be differences between geographic community standards and cyberspace (what was legal in one place could be banned in another).
35. As use of the information superhighway continued to grow, the OSTP was considering the possibility that it would become increasingly difficult to collect income tax and customs taxes. Workers might be employed over the Internet effectively for working abroad, and electronic material/software would cross borders freely without being subject to import/export taxes. In this scenario the only viable way to maintain government income might be just through taxing the consumption of physical goods.
36. Government involvement in the development of the information superhighway was to lead by example (e.g. to use the leading edge technology in the efficient delivery of services), in longterm research projects (10-20 years ahead), and in maintaining the obligations for telecommunications providers to serve rural and sparsely populated areas. Previous examples of computing/communications technology where research sponsored by the Federal government had led the field in what were later to become billion dollar industries were: networking, graphics, timesharing, Windows, and parallel computing. It was suggested that the development of standards for digital television (with the potential to turn a TV into a phone or computer at the flick of a switch) could provide the next major growth area for the communications and computing industries.
The National Science Foundation
37. The Sub-Committee met the Director, Dr Neal Lane, and other senior staff of the National Science Foundation (NSF). After complaints from researchers that bandwidth was filling up and the Internet was no longer as useful as it was, the NSF started a programme called "VBNS" (Very high speed Backbone Network Service) to link 100 research universities with at least 155 Mb/second connections. (The programme is similar to superJANET in the United Kingdom.) Some of those connections would then be upgraded to gigabit levels, and the rest of the university system would be connected at megabit levels by commercial groups rather than the NSF. The NSF connections at 155 Mb/second would cost universities half a million dollars per year. Use of VBNS by industry would be restricted at first so as not to overload the system and priority of bandwidth would be given to university research uses. Industry was keen to collaborate, and technology which allowed bandwidth to be reserved for certain applications could be used to give industry greater access in the future. At this point the next level of high capacity bandwidth would probably be made available to university researchers.
38. Usagesensitive pricing was likely to be the next important area for Internet economics. Pricing would be used to deal with overload, but some services such as electronic mail were likely to remain free. A premium would then be paid for high bandwidth uses (i.e. customers would buy access to extra bandwidth as needed) and bypasses to congested parts of the superhighway. The suggestion was made that if a connection was used at full capacity most of the time then the usage price might be tripled (thus providing funds for new infrastructure as it was required).
39. To improve its administration, the NSF had started conducting a trial on the electronic submission and review of research proposals. This had raised a number of questions about encrypting sensitive information and the verification of who was actually submitting or reviewing the proposals.
40. For educational purposes the information superhighway might eventually transform teaching and learning. The crucial step to take, however, was not with technology, but in understanding the processes by which humans (and children in particular) learn. Here there was a real need for collaborative work with the social sciences. If a viable theory was found then developing intelligent computer systems to exploit learning potentials to the full would be easy. At present though, education using information technology was in danger of being overtaken by the entertainment industry because of its new and trendy status.
41. Other areas that needed to be addressed in relation to the information superhighway included: the status of digital libraries and how they should catalogue and archive material that they did not own but, for example, had hypertext links to through other electronic documents; whether electronic mail should be archived; the social consequences of the information superhighway; verification of information; and exactly what role should be taken by governments.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
42. The Sub-Committee met Ms Cita Furlani, Chief, Office of Enterprise Integration. NIST provides the secretariat for the Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF) which reports directly to the President and Vice-President. The IITF has committees on Information Policy, Telecommunications Policy, and Applications and Technology, which support a variety of working groups. The working group topics include intellectual property rights, universal access, international issues, network reliability and vulnerability, and privacy. The Committee on Applications and Technology (CAT) was tasked with increasing the use of applications, in particular through leading by example and expanding the use of the NII by all government departments. Other important applications being studied were telemedicine, standards in health care policy, and the development of a virtual library to provide a comprehensive online collection of resources on information infrastructure topics (including all NIST/IITF publications).
43. Ms Furlani said that the overall policy problem with the information superhighway was that one could not just have national policies, they must be global in nature to work. CAT was thus involved in G-7 initiatives on the information society, the first of which was to undertake an inventory of all national multimedia projects as part of the G-7 Global Inventory Project to determine exactly what was being done by whom and where.
44. The barriers to the development of applications using the information superhighway were also identified. In 1993, interoperability was perceived to be one of the main barriers, but this was being overcome. Now the barriers were moving away from technical issues. In health care, for example, the takeup of telemedicine was being seriously restricted because doctors were licensed to practice by individual state bodies, and thus could not practice electronically over state boundaries without also being licensed in the second state. In education one of the main barriers now was the lack of good (and approved) material for school level teaching, so the IITF was attempting to produce quality guidelines. Similarly, the Better Business Bureau was getting involved in certification for quality business software.
45. The greatest barrier though was user training. Investing in the "mental infrastructure" as well as physical infrastructure was critical, but it was something that accountants were apparently poor at recognising. The problem was that the training was very expensive, and the benefits would usually be spread over a whole organisation rather than being identified with a specific area of gain. Ms Furlani suggested that a change in mindset was required on how investment in information technology and training was accounted for in the books.
Meeting with Congressman George E Brown Jr (DCalifornia)
46. Congressman Brown warmly welcomed the SubCommittee and discussed a number of aspects of his work with the House of Representatives Science Committee (Congressman Brown is the ranking minority member of the House Science Committee). To communicate its activities more widely, the Science Committee already had its own World Wide Web page (http://www.house.gov/science) and regularly received comments and information via electronic mail. Many of the topics being addressed by the Science Committee were similar to those covered by the Select Committee, and Congressman Brown expressed strong support for the idea of forming closer ties between the two committees (at the very least for the purposes of information exchange).
The Democratic Technology Communications Committee
47. The Sub-Committee met Mr Chris Casey (Technology Advisor) and Mr Paul Mann (Staffer to Senator Patrick Leahy). In addition to managing standard media activities for the Democrats, the group was heavily involved in giving all Senators an electronic presence on the Internet. Use of the Internet by Senators and Congressmen was said to be rapidly increasing as the elections approached and all now at least had their contact addresses posted on the World Wide Web. Mr Casey's group was involved in producing Web pages for Democrat Senators, including hypertext links to related pages and areas of interest. All speeches were being put online along with information relating to Bills and Committee work. This included sound bite voice recordings and pictures of the Senators in action.
48. Mr Casey said that the main job now was to keep the Web pages up to date (there was nothing more telling than a Web page proclaiming that it was last updated over a month ago!) The main Web site for the group can be found at: http://www.policy.net.capweb.
Lunch time meeting at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
49. This lively and wideranging roundtable meeting was hosted by Mr Stuart Schwartztein and was attended by a number of prominent members of the Law, Policy and Computing communities in the Washington area.
50. The best policy for paying for use of the information superhighway was suggested to be by level of usage, with very small charges perhaps being made by the number of Web links activated (the technology to collect these small payments already exists). A system of delayed charging, with access being provided free for a period of time, was also favoured so as not to discourage new users.
51. In education, the Internet should not be considered a panacea for all of the problems now faced. A rational approach was called for as to what should and should not, could and could not be done with the technology. Its main role was seen to be as an information resource and for augmentation of present teaching, rather than replacing the types of learning that require human interaction. The technology also excited children and teachers alike and this could be put to great advantage even at elementary levels: it was much easier to teach children who were willing to pull information off the Internet, instead of trying to force them to learn the same material by conventional means. The cost of bringing all schools up to the same level of technology and training was estimated to be around four per cent of the total education budget each year (the present allocation was around 1.9 per cent).
52. Unless another country "gave the world access to unbreakable encryption" and US policy was changed, key recovery encryption was likely to be the main method of securing information on the information superhighway. Thus, it was argued that governments should be discussing when and to whom the decrypting keys should be made available. Also if a key were transferred (for example to a friendly foreign state conducting a police investigation), should liability for any misuse (accidental or otherwise) also be transferred? Would governments also provide a level of fallback insurance to protect users if they had used the approved level of encryption, but had still fallen prey to electronic damage?
53. Other areas discussed included: electronic commerce and the role of virtual corporations which operated with a minimum of job functions, thus having a major impact on employment; authentication and the need for agreed standards on digital signatures, including their acceptability in law; how to define what constituted a copy in electronic terms over a network; and the growing business of offering valueadded services on the Internet.
54. A final comment was made on the problems of protecting freedom of speech on the information superhighway. As almost all large corporations (including governments) operated with interests on a global basis they were becoming ever more in danger of political blackmail in terms of what they might say on the Internet. A situation was foreseen where companies might censor all of the information they released electronically, in case it might be accessed from a country where different views were held on what was suitable, so as not to endanger trading links. It was suggested that serious consideration was now needed on how to preserve western values, rather than opt for the lowest commonly acceptable denominator.
Information Technology Association of America
55. Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) is a leading trade association with members ranging from the very small up to Microsoft. The Sub-Committee met Mr Harris Miller, President, and two Vice-Presidents: Mr Jon Enguland and Ms Karen Twenhafel.
56. Global solutions were called for, particularly in relation to the issue of liability for material available over the Internet. The Communications Decency Act had at least caused the industry to develop decency screening software, but service providers should not be liable for the content of material placed on the Internet by their customers: it would be an impossible monitoring task. The ITAA had also been lobbying the government over its stance on the export of encryption software. Stronger encryption was already available from Japan and South Africa and, as foreign countries were already going to such places for their software, it was estimated that the potential loss of business to the USA could be $65 billion by the year 2000. It was suggested that different levels of encryption should be made available for different purposes (e.g. private, business and military use) and that, rather than restricting the availability of encryption, law enforcement groups should get better at breaking code.
57. The three main barriers to the development of the information superhighway were considered by the ITAA to be: encryption, the cost of universal access, and the problem of what was considered to be legal in different geographic areas. The loss of sales tax etc. might also become a problem.
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA
58. In addition to Dr Rolt, the Sub-Committee was accompanied in Raleigh by Mr Mike Shingler (HM Deputy ConsulGeneral, Atlanta).
Office of the Governor of North Carolina
59. The Sub-Committee met Ms Jane Smith Paterson (Chair of the North Carolina Information Policy Committee and Advisor to the Governor for Policy, Budget and Technology) and Mr Jon Hamm (Sprint Carolina Telecom). North Carolina is approximately as wide as England is long, it is the world's largest producer of fibre optic cables, hosts two of the USA's top ten research parks, and yet it is predominantly rural with a population similar in size to Scotland. Faced with the problem of trying to get education, health and government services to all areas at low cost, the state had decided to commit itself to a very high speed statesupported information superhighway. The state thus had a very proactive programme to link all of its communities together using the North Carolina Information Highway (NCIH). Keen interest and input from the Federal level (via Al Gore) was said to have been "marvellous at keeping a focus on the development".
60. The NCIH is an ATMswitched 155 Mb/second fibre optic highway, being upgraded to 622 Mb/second (it was said that at the upgraded level one could transmit the whole of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 4.8 seconds). The network had been operational since August 1994 and up to 800 sites were expected to be connected by the year 2002. The connection cost was set as a flat fee of $1000 per site, and the eventual aim was to have no one in rural North Carolina being more than 12 miles away from a fibre connection. The prime purpose of the NCIH was to foster economic development by attracting industry, offering efficient government services, and improving education, health care etc.
61. In developing the NCIH there had been cooperation between all of the telephone companies, and between many of the potential users (e.g. education, commerce, criminal justice, medical and government) to develop a highly standardised system with little duplication of effort or resource deployment. Major users now were: telemedicine 17 per cent, community colleges 21 per cent, city/county governments 2 per cent, high schools 39 per cent. Most of the traffic on the NCIH was ultimately expected to be commercial, but the state government had guaranteed a certain level of usage to start the system moving. North Carolina is the G-7 test bed for telemedicine.
62. Mr Hamm said that the policy for the NCIH was to invest in the highest quality now so that one did not end up paying for the superhighway two or three times over as upgrades from narrow to medium to broad band were made. The benefits would also be immediate for all users. A key feature was that the NCIH was based on nonproprietary standards to ensure that it had the potential for a long lifetime. The trials stage had been relatively short, and the rollout of the network quick, so that people could start to develop the applications that they needed.
63. One third of the NCIH development money had been set aside for training. The policy was that a site wishing to connect to the network would only be released funds for the infrastructure once a training plan had been agreed. Training in information technology was also being made compulsory for teachers (who would have to pass a test) and teacher trainers in general, and by the year 2000 no child would be able to get their high school diploma in North Carolina without passing a computer competency exam.
64. Technology demonstration. The Sub-Committee took part in a video conference over the NCIH with community members at the Montgomery College in Troy, North Carolina. The system provided very high quality video pictures and sound, with the capacity to link five sites together for simultaneous interaction or to link one site to many (in a more broadcast format). The system provided connections between dedicated technology rooms equipped with cameras, monitors and computers operated by a "facilitator" at each site. The NCIH system was said to be a great time and money saver with uses including education and health care in prisons, telemedicine, community projects, special lessons for gifted students, education in the armed forces, and connecting local industries to distant markets. Fees for use were $25 an hour for inhouse access, and $125 an hour for outside groups, which compared favourably to the $700$1,400 per hour often charged for a satellite link.
65. In education, experience had shown that it was often possible to run classes with a team of teachers so that a highly qualified teacher in a subject at one site could give a lecture over the NCIH, followed by local teachers providing the backup for experimental work at each location. The local teachers were also said to be benefiting from this arrangement and were using the opportunity to upgrade their own skills.
66. Quality pictures were considered to be the primary requirement for good communications, hence the use of a 155 Mb/second link. At the time of setting up the NCIH, digital compression technology was not thought to be good enough for them to risk installing at a lower bandwidth. However, the advent of new compression standards set by the Motion Picture Expert Group ("MPEG 2") meant that they could effectively multiply the capacity of the network by six and still maintain the quality.
Microelectronic Computing Centre of North Carolina (MCNC)
67. The Sub-Committee, accompanied by Ms Smith Paterson and Mr Hamm, met Mr Alan Blatecky and other staff at the MCNC for lunch. Some of the problems with the NCIH that were discussed included: overcoming interstate bureaucracy, for example with telemedicine and the lack of standardised licensing; education and the need to address such basic problems as scheduling lessons to begin at the same time in different school districts; maintaining interoperability; and designing experimental networks to replicate conditions in the real world.
68. North Carolina was said to have the second largest motion picture industry in the USA, and an NCIH application called "Film Scout" had been designed to help film makers find the ideal location. Film Scout provided online information combining a geographic information system and a resources database (of local businesses, skilled people, facilities etc.) to identify not just suitable locations but also to determine whether the necessary backup facilities and people would be available locally. The system was also intended for use by industry looking for new factory sites etc., and an electronic museum was under development using the same technology.
North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
69. At the MCNC offices, Dr Jeff Friederick described how a school for top science, technology and mathematics students was making use of the NCIH. Part of the schools charter was to improve science and maths in all schools across North Carolina and the school was now offering nine different courses over the NCIH, including some aimed at teachers. The classroom video conference system was convincingly demonstrated to be an effective teaching tool and the many benefits of the system were apparent. Adaptations including a computerdriven interactive drawing board (used to replace the black board), and the use of an overhead camera (to zoomin on experiments) made the system highly functional for a variety of teaching applications.
70. The school was a test bed for information technology applications in education. To help spread the use of the new technology elsewhere, seven regional "cyber campuses" were being set up (linked back to the main school) where the technology could be seen and tested by local education groups. It was hoped that this would lead to new technology being phased in to all other NCIH sites. The first three years of this programme were being funded through industry money and donations, and only when the technology had been proven would the state be asked to contribute.
71. Preliminary results from application of the NCIH in education had shown that students who had been taught using it, and the associated technology, produced consistently better results than those who had not had access to it. These results were repeated across a range of levels of starting ability.
Final session at MCNC
72. In summingup the North Carolina meetings, those present were asked to say what they would do differently if setting up the NCIH again from scratch. The main area they wished to change, right from the start, would be educating the legislators and their staff in the concepts of the information superhighway and what the benefits would be to the state. It was said that there was a real need for champions in the state legislature. Vice-President Al Gore provided a useful role at the Federal level, but there was still no Federal focus group to push technology within each state and draw funding bodies together. A need was also identified for a national Advanced Applications Centre where experience learned in other states could be exchanged.
73. It was clear from the meetings in North Carolina that the main driving force behind the NCIH initiatives was committed people like Ms Smith Paterson. While there was a role for visionaries at the Federal level, actual implementation of the vision still depended to a large extent on those who were prepared to promote the development in the field.
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