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The Global Information Infrastructure

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A White Paper

Prepared for the White House Forum on the Role of
Science and Technology in Promoting
National Security and Global Stability

March 29 - 30, 1995

National Academy of Sciences


The Clinton Administration has made the development of an advanced National Information Infrastructure (NII) and the GII top U.S. priorities. A major goal of the NII is to give our citizens access to a broad range of information and information services. Using innovative telecommunications and information technologies, the NII - through a partnership of business, labor, academia, consumers, and all levels of government -- will help the United States achieve a broad range of economic and social goals.

Similarly, other governments have come to recognize that the telecommunications, information services, and information technology sectors are not only dynamic growth sectors themselves, but are also engines of development and economic growth throughout the economy. With this realization, governments have sharply focused their public policy debates and initiatives on the capabilities of their underlying information infrastructures. The United States is but one of many countries currently pursuing national initiatives to capture the promise of the "Information Revolution." Our initiative shares with others an important, common objective: to ensure that the full potential benefit of advances in information and telecommunications technologies are realized for all citizens.

The GII is an outgrowth of that perspective, a vehicle for expanding the scope of these benefits on a global scale. By interconnecting local, national, regional, and global networks, the GII can increase economic growth, create jobs, improve infrastructures, and contribute to global stability. Taken as a whole, this worldwide "network of networks" will create a global information marketplace, encouraging broad-based social discourse within and among all countries.

The GII will depend upon an ever-expanding range of technology and products, including telephones, fax machines, computers, switches, compact discs, video and audio tape, coaxial cable, wire, satellites, optical fiber transmission lines, microwave networks, televisions, scanners, cameras, and printers -- as well as advances in computing, information, and networking technologies not yet envisioned.

But the GII extends beyond hardware and software; it is also a system of applications, activities, and relationships. There is the information itself, whatever its purpose or form, e.g., video programming, scientific or business databases, images, sound recordings, library archives, or other media. There are also standards, interfaces, and transmission codes that facilitate interoperability between networks and ensure the privacy and security of the information carried over them, as well as the security and reliability of the networks themselves. Most importantly, the GII includes the people involved in the creation and use of information, development of applications and services, construction of the facilities, and training necessary to realize the potential of the GII. These individuals are primarily in the private sector, and include vendors, operators, service providers, and users.

The development of a Global Information Infrastructure offers many new opportunities and poses many new challenges. Properly used, new computer and telecommunications technologies can foster democracy, open new markets, create high-paying jobs, promote peace and international understanding, promote freedom of expression and freedom of information, and foster sustainable development. We must insure that the Global Information Infrastructure is not used by governments to monitor their citizens, commit acts of terrorism, or fight an "information war" in cyberspace.

Computer and telecommunications technologies are advancing so quickly and are being used in so many new and unexpected ways that it is hard for policy-making to keep pace. This has been particularly true in the area of national security and international relations where many of the consequences of the development of the GII can often only be guessed at. The task is made even harder because relatively little serious study has been done on these questions.

The forum will provide an excellent opportunity to explore how the evolving Global Information Infrastructure will impact different aspects of national security and international relations. While it will not be possible to address all of the thorny policy issues raised by advanced information technology, it should be possible to frame the issues and determine which ones most need additional attention.

This paper provides background on the Administration's Global Information Infrastructure, which is designed to spur development of a global "network of networks" that will one day reach every town and village. The initiative is a comprehensive effort to address the wide range of telecommunications policy, technology policy, and information policy issues related to the GII. This paper is adopted from the a recently-released report, The Global Information Infrastructure--Agenda for Cooperation, prepared by the inter-agency Information Infrastructure Task Force (chaired by Commerce Secretary Ron Brown), which is responsible for coordinating the Administration's National Information Infrastructure and Global Information Infrastructure initiatives.



A. Encouraging Private Investment

From the wide range of available options, governments can develop a strategy best suited to their particular needs. At the same time, they must institute the appropriate regulatory, legislative, and market reforms to create the conditions necessary to attract private investment in their telecommunications, information technology, and information services markets. To facilitate this process, the United States will join with other governments to:

  • Identify and seek to remove barriers to private investment, and develop policies and regulations that improve investment incentives in both growing and mature telecommunications and information markets;
  • Ensure that applicable laws, regulations, and other legal rules governing the provision of telecommunications and information services and equipment are reasonable, nondiscriminatory, and publicly available;
  • Engage in bilateral, regional, and multilateral discussions to exchange information on the various options that have been successfully pursued to attract private investment, including, but not limited to, privatization, liberalization, and market reforms;
  • Work with major international lending institutions, such as the World Bank and the regional development banks, and major private financial institutions to determine the best means of attracting both private and public capital, and establish workshops to train officials in the different liberalization approaches; and
  • Encourage international lending institutions to recognize the ways in which funded social projects, such as the delivery of education and health care services, can be advanced through improved information infrastructures.

B. Promoting Competition

The most effective means of promoting a GII that delivers advanced products and services to all countries is through increased competition at local, national, regional, and global levels. To that end, the United States will join with other governments to:

  • Assess, through information exchanges and existing multilateral organizations, the positive experiences of different countries in introducing competition and progressively liberalizing their telecommunications, information technology, and information services markets;
  • Work constructively to remove barriers to competition in telecommunications, information technology, and information services markets;
  • Include timetables for increased competition in basic telecommunications infrastructure and services in national information infrastructure development plans, and, as an interim step, increase the pace of liberalization through the expansion of resale;
  • Encourage new entrants by adopting competitive safeguards to protect against anticompetitive behavior by firms with market power, including measures designed to prevent discrimination and cross-subsidization;
  • Implement specific regulations to facilitate competitive entry in the telecommunications sector, including the following essential elements:
    1) interconnection among competing network and service providers;
    2) "unbundling" of bottleneck facilities of dominant network providers;
    3) transparency of regulations and charges; and
    4) nondiscrimination among network facilities operators and between facilities operators and potential users, including resellers;
  • Ensure that government-sponsored technical training activities incorporate programs specifically related to the development of pro-competitive markets and regulations (including such issues as competitive safeguards and interconnection);
  • Pursue a successful conclusion to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) discussions on basic telecommunications to obtain the opening of markets for basic telecommunications services through facilities-based competition and the resale of services on existing networks on nondiscriminatory terms and conditions; and
  • Consider the full range of options for promoting competition in Intelsat and Inmarsat, ncluding:
    1) pursuing changes designed to increase the operational efficiency of Intelsat and Inmarsat, retaining their fundamental intergovernmental character, but substantially reducing the scope of the current intergovernmental agreements by removing provisions that convey unfair advantage and inhibit efficient functioning;
    2) transforming the organizations into private corporations; and 3) transforming the organizations into multiple private service providers that compete with one another, as well as with others.

In selecting among these options, the goal must be to enhance competition and not diminish it.

C. Providing Open Access

In partnership with the private sector, governments can take action to improve access to facilities and networks, and promote the availability of a wide range of diverse services and information, including supporting the development of international standards that promote interoperability. To achieve these goals, the United States will join with other governments to:

  • Develop appropriate policies that encourage increased access by citizens to diverse sources of information;
  • Provide unrestricted and equitable access to networks for providers and consumers of services and content, based on sound commercial practices;
  • Hold regular bilateral and multilateral dialogues on ways of increasing the flow of information across borders to facilitate greater access to content by consumers;
  • Encourage an open, voluntary standards-setting process that does not denigrate intellectual property rights and which includes the participation of a broad group of interests, including the private sector, consumers, and, as appropriate, government agencies;
  • Work through regional and international bodies to increase the pace of consensus-based, voluntary, and transparent standards development and adoption, and to promote the broad dissemination of standards-related information;
  • Work together and with national, regional, and international standards bodies to identify priority areas for increased coordination among different private national and international bodies in support of interoperability of networks and services on the GII.

D. Creating a Flexible Regulatory Environment

Although national regulatory environments necessarily reflect the specific social, economic, and political needs of each individual country, the essentially global nature of the markets for telecommunications, information technologies, and information services require that national regulations be responsive to global developments. The United States will join with other governments to:

  • Re-examine and adapt regulations and legislation to accommodate market and technological developments at national and global levels in support of the five GII principles;
  • Create, through regulatory and/or legislative reform, a pro-competitive, technology-neutral regulatory environment to maximize consumer choice, to provide fair access to networks, and to stimulate infrastructure development, the introduction of new services, and the wider dissemination of information;
  • Exchange views and information on national regulatory and legislative initiatives and seek to identify common challenges and options for developing flexible and transparent regulations in support of the development of the GII;
  • Work collectively in regional and international organizations to convene meetings devoted specifically to encouraging the adoption of regulatory policies that will promote the GII; and
  • Encourage creation of independent national regulatory authorities for telecommunications separate from the operator that shall promote the interest of consumers and ensure effective and efficient competition. Such authorities should have sufficient powers to carry out their missions and should operate with transparent decisionmaking processes that are open to all interested parties.

E. Ensuring Universal Service

Although the provision of universal service varies from country to country, the goal of providing all people with greater access to both basic and advanced services is a crucial element of the GII. The United States will join with other governments to:

  • Consider, at the local and national levels, the benefits afforded by the introduction of competition and private investment in meeting and expanding universal service;
  • Exchange information at the bilateral and multilateral level to address the range of available options to meet universal service goals; and
  • Consider, at the national and international levels, ways to promote universal access as a means of providing service to currently underserved and geographically remote areas.


Information Policy & Content Issues

1. Privacy Protection

In order to foster consumer confidence in the GII and to encourage the growth of interconnected global networks, users must feel that they are afforded adequate privacy protection. To this end, the United States will join with other governments to:

  • Identify key privacy issues that need to be addressed in relation to the development of national and global information infrastructures;
  • Work with both the public and private sectors to achieve consensus on a set of fair information principles for the collection, transfer, storage, and subsequent use of data over national and global information infrastructures;
  • Ensure that privacy protection does not unduly impede the free flow of information across national borders;
  • Share information on new privacy protection policy developments and on new technologies and standards for privacy protection; and
  • Encourage the use of voluntary guidelines developed by international bodies, such as the OECD, as the best means of ensuring the protection of privacy on an international basis.

    2. Security and Reliability

    To promote the development of a secure and reliable GII, the United States will join with other countries to:

    • Work collectively to increase the reliability and security of national and international nformation infrastructures;
    • Initiate a broad international dialogue among users, providers, and all other participants in the GII on issues related to protecting the confidentiality and integrity of information transmitted and stored on global networks;
    • Exchange information and encourage further cooperation within regional and international organizations such as the ITU and the OECD on measures to ensure network security and reliability, including the sharing of outage information;
    • Share information regarding the best means available to advance security goals while not impeding progress on other GII principles, such as the promotion of competition and open access; and
    • Exchange information about, and accelerate efforts to develop new technologies needed to improve the security of the GII (e.g. encryption, digital signatures, and firewalls.)

    3. Intellectual Property Protection

    The GII cannot achieve its promise if authors, producers, and other content creators are not guaranteed adequate protection of their intellectual property rights. To achieve this protection, the United States will join with other governments to:

    • Cooperate in national, bilateral, regional and international fora (such as the World Intellectual Property Organization) to achieve high levels of intellectual property and technical protection in order to guarantee to rightsholders the technical and legal means to control the use of their property over the GII;
    • Ensure that voluntary licensing regimes provide rightsholders and potential users of copyrighted works maximum flexibility in negotiating the conditions governing the use of copyrighted works, eliminate compulsory licensing, and guard against the imposition of standards that would impede the free-flow of information;
    • Provide effective enforcement against the unauthorized use of a copyrighted work (infringement), including severe legal penalties and vigilant monitoring. Enforcement is particularly critical as technological innovations jeopardize the existing ability of rights holders to protect their works;
    • Encourage the development and use of technological capabilities and safeguards, such as software envelopes, headers, assurances of authenticity, and encryption methods to complement existing copyright management techniques and prevent infringement at all levels. Cooperative efforts to develop testbeds, define standards, and construct infrastructure components for these safeguards should be encouraged, as should measures to prevent or render illegal the use of devices to overcome these safeguards; and
    • Work in collaboration with intellectual property-based industries towards greater efforts to educate others about the importance of intellectual property protection.


    - Delivering the Benefits of the GII
    Given that the value of the GII will be determined by how people benefit from it, governments must cultivate active participation by consumers and businesses in the application of new technologies. By working together in creative partnerships, the public and private sectors can apply information and telecommunications technology to a variety of critical and complex issues: improving productivity and economic growth in an increasingly competitive and interdependent global economy; providing adequate health care; ensuring the development of workforce skills through education and training; providing equitable access to information through public institutions, such as libraries; enhancing leisure-time activities; protecting natural resources and the environment; and ensuring the delivery of government services and information.

    Many governments are already examining ways to promote the development of the information infrastructure and to demonstrate, through pilot projects and testbeds, the myriad benefits of new technologies. In the United States, the National Information Infrastructure (NII) initiative includes a Federal matching grant program that provides support for planning and demonstration projects initiated by state and local governments and non-profit entities in such fields as health care and education./2/ The U.S. NII initiative also includes a number of other federally supported applications in the areas of environmental monitoring, digital libraries, international transportation and trade, and the electronic dissemination of government information./3/

    The reach of applications being developed around the world can be expanded internationally through collaborative projects among commercial entities, academic institutions, and private, voluntary, and multilateral organizations. International applications have the unique potential to permit countries not only to bring diverse global resources to bear upon local problems and needs, but also to find solutions to needs that transcend national boundaries, such as environmental monitoring and global trade and commerce.

    These applications can transform the possibilities of the GII into realities for citizens around the world. What follows is an illustrative, but not exhaustive, list of examples that demonstrate the value of expanding collaborative efforts in the development of international applications:

    • Distance learning projects can make available a wealth of educational resources to improve local educational and training capabilities, offering cost-saving, effective alternatives to overseas studies;
    • Computer networks linking medical school libraries and remote sites can improve the delivery of health care services, particularly to rural communities, by expanding access to demographic, epidemiological, and medical reference materials. In Zambia, district hospitals are being linked for clinical consultation, distance learning, health literature dissemination, and epidemiological data exchange. African medical libraries are linking up with libraries overseas for research and document delivery services;
    • Satellite and radio-based systems that collect and disseminate health statistics can be used to identify underserved segments of the population and to target those areas for expanded delivery of family health services;
    • Remote sensing can be used to identify and protect important ecological systems. The Administration is promoting an international partnership, known as Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE), that will allow children all over the world to collect and share environmental data. Students will work with teachers and environmental scientists to expand knowledge about weather, air and water chemistry and quality, biodiversity, and other "vital signs" of the Earth. The combined data will be transformed into striking "pictures" of the entire planet, allowing each student to see how their school's observation is an important part of the global environment;
    • Computer and satellite networks can provide monitoring and, in some cases, early warning of natural disasters, allowing for better coordination of humanitarian assistance efforts between host and donor countries, speeding the delivery of aid and assistance. In the South Pacific, the PEACESAT satellite network has been used to coordinate emergency assistance after typhoons and earthquakes, and to summon medical teams during outbreaks of cholera and dengue fever;
    • Computerized market price data for agricultural and horticultural products can provide new agribusiness opportunities and can facilitate direct links between exporters and clients;
    • Access to international markets, particularly for small and medium sized businesses, can be created by providing electronic access to information such as transportation schedules and costs, insurance and customs data. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) trade points system uses electronic data interchange and other technologies to establish a network of trade points around the globe. In Algeria, for example, the introduction of a computer-mediated trade point has stimulated an increase in the number of companies involved in international trade from twenty to 2,500;
    • Electronic data interchange technologies, which can reduce the administrative cost of international trade transactions by as much as twenty per cent, can help companies increase productivity by streamlining manufacturing and service delivery. Through industry-led consortia such as CommerceNet, companies can explore collaborative engineering, on-line catalogs of products and services, and mechanisms for electronic payments;
    • Scientists can continue to explore the use of "collaboratories," tools and virtual environments that allow scientists to work together without regard to space or time. Scientists need the ability to share data and the tools for data analysis, visualization, and modeling, to control remote instruments, and to communicate with their colleagues;
    • Using the World Wide Web, individuals and institutions all over the globe have begun to create distributed "virtual libraries" on specific subjects. As these opportunities continue to grow, tools for information discovery and retrieval and protection of intellectual property rights will become increasingly important.

    In our view, public-private sponsorship of GII pilot projects and testbeds is worthwhile. It will help identify and address a number of technical, policy, and regulatory barriers to the realization of the GII. These include issues of privacy, security, interoperability, and intellectual property protection, as well as artificially high prices for telecommunications services and outdated rules and regulations designed for paper-based transactions. A strategy that concentrates on "learning by doing" is far more likely to resolve these barriers.

    The roles played by governments, the private sector, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations will vary depending on the nature of the application. In some cases, such as global electronic commerce and entertainment services, the private sector should take the lead, while in other areas, such as international public health, cooperation between public health agencies, hospitals, clinics, and universities would be appropriate. Whatever the application, governments must recognize that while they can play an important catalytic role in fostering international collaboration, they should not attempt "top-down" management of this process. The Administration hopes and expects that many of the best ideas for global cooperation will bubble up from the grassroots with little or no government involvement.

    Successful applications will set in motion a continuous cycle of demand that will encourage future development of the GII. Demonstrating the power of the GII to successfully address pressing problems will stimulate consumer demand for a variety of products and services at affordable prices. This demand will provide the necessary incentive for the private sector to broaden the reach and expand the capabilities of the GII, enhancing its ability to deliver benefits to people and again increasing demand. As a "network of networks" linking people and information, the GII can leverage the collaborative potential of existing efforts and provide real solutions to existing and emerging global issues.

    Recommended Action

    International applications are the best way to demonstrate the potential power of the GII to affect lives all over the world. The United States will join with other countries to:

    • Support, along with the private sector, the initiation of pilot projects and testbeds that demonstrate the benefits of the GII, in areas such as electronic commerce, health care, digital libraries, environmental monitoring, and life-long learning, with opportunities for participation by both developed and developing countries;
    • Cooperate in the facilitation of electronic information exchanges in support of global trade and commerce;
    • Facilitate the sharing of information in the public domain with other countries on government-funded and private sector applications projects to promote a broader understanding of the diversity of technology that can be applied to meet various public needs;
    • Encourage the assignment of a higher priority for innovative applications of information technology, which will encourage increased use of the GII;
    • Encourage private sector-led efforts to develop application-level standards (e.g. data interchange formats, application program interfaces) to ensure interoperability at the application level; and
    • Work constructively to assess and eliminate the barriers to the development and deployment of GII applications./4/


    Harnessing the global potential of information and communications technologies to this end will require collaboration among the industries that will build, operate, provide, and use services and information available over the evolving national networks. It will also require cooperative efforts among countries, working together bilaterally, regionally, and through multilateral organizations, to facilitate the interconnection of their respective networks and the sharing of information among nations.

    In our interdependent world, technological and regulatory choices made in one country can affect those made in neighboring countries, creating a multiplier effect for the GII's development. To help guide this development, the Administration proposes five core principles -- private investment, competition, open access, a flexible regulatory environment, and universal service. These principles, we believe, along with effective information policies, will provide a foundation upon which the GII can be built.

    The overarching goal of the Agenda for Cooperation is to foster the cooperation that will be needed to spur the transformation of a thousand discrete networks into a connected, interoperable global information infrastructure. As all nations take steps to develop and upgrade national information infrastructures, we invite you to join with us in ensuring that the benefits of the GII will be available throughout the world.


    1. In general throughout this report, references to "information services" are meant to be broad and to include all services, content, and applications to be provided over the networks of the GII. However, for specific statistics cited from other sources, the definitions from those sources apply.

    2. Administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the basic objective of the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) is to provide clear and visible demonstrations to people at the local level of the advantages that can be accrued in their daily lives as a result of having access to a modern, interactive information infrastructure.

    3. Additional information on how information infrastructure applications can benefit people can be found in two reports from the U.S. Information Infrastructure Task Force's Committee on Applications and Technology: "Putting the Information Infrastructure to Work," National Institute for Standards and Technology Special Publication 857, Gaithersburg, MD, 1994; and "The Information Infrastructure: Reaching Society's Goals," National Institute for Standards and Technology Special Publication 868, Gaithersburg, MD, 1994.

    4. A report of the Conference on Breaking the Barriers to the National Information Infrastructure can be obtained from the Council on Competitiveness in Washington, D.C. The conference was co-sponsored by the Council and the Clinton Administration's Information Infrastructure Task Force.

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