Representatives from fifteen national library and information associations met September 8th through 10th in Washington, DC to discuss critical national policy issues dealing with the National Information Infrastructure (NII) - sometimes called the National Information Highway. The group reached a general consensus on areas of key principles and questions that must be used to guide the development of plans for the evolution of the NII.
The chair for the Forum, Elaine Albright (Dean of Cultural Affairs and Libraries for the University of Maine and also chair of the American Library Association Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Telecommunications) said, "There is strong agreement among this diverse group that libraries will play a key role in the evolution of the national infrastructure, as both providers and consumers of information, as unique access points to the information infrastructure serving the public, and in their unique role in protecting the public interests in access to information."
The NII can be considered the evolution of the current many-faceted communication fabric of the nation, made up of telephone and telecommunications, the cable and television delivery systems, and the rapidly emerging Internet and new digital communications systems. The old framework for regulation which has provided separate approaches for the now technologically merging communications media needs to be re-examined in order to ensure that the information infrastructure does not impede economic growth and social progress. However, this examination must reconsider the public interest issues as well as the market issues in modifying the existing framework.
The areas identified for the principles to be used in the development and evaluation of plans for the NII are:
* First Amendment
* Equitable access
The keynote speaker for the Forum was Dr. Michael Nelson, Senior Policy Analyst, Office of Science and Technology Policy, the White House, who addressed administration plans for supporting the NII development through:
* Research and development programs aimed at applications and ease of use
* Demonstration programs that support the "Information Highway on-ramps" needed to tie in schools and libraries
* Steps to stimulate the development of new telecommunications policy needed for the NII