Text: Basic Principles for Building an Information Society Al Gore Vice President of the United States
The Global Information Infrastructure (GII) -- a massive network of communications networks -- will forever change the way citizens around the world live, learn, work, and communicate.
This global network would permit the most remote village to browse through the most advanced library. It would allow doctors on one continent to examine patients on another. It would help a family in the Northern Hemisphere stay in touch with relatives in the Southern Hemisphere. And it would instill in citizens everywhere a deeper sense of their shared stewardship of our small planet.
Developed and developing nations in a number of international gatherings have forged a consensus that the best information network would be built on five core principles: private investment, competition, flexible regulation, open access, and universal service. The goal of these guiding principles is to speed the development of the GII and ensure its longevity.
These principles were adopted in Buenos Aires two years ago at the meeting of the International Telecommunication Union and affirmed last year at the G-7 Telecommunications Ministerial in Brussels. They have also been reaffirmed in a wide range of regional and multilateral fora -- the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, the Summit of the Americas, and they were noted at the Information Society and Development Conference.
All five principles are tightly linked and depend on one another for their force. We should think about how these principles can advance both the particular interests of individual nations and the common interests of all citizens of the world.
Let me review the core principles.
Let's start with private investment and competition. President Clinton signed into law the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996, which will open our communications markets to competition among a host of companies. We believe that liberating private businesses to compete with each other has proven time and again to be the best technique for sparking creativity, creating jobs, boosting profits, and bringing an array of new services to consumers.
This is a tremendous opportunity for the private sector -- as we have seen in South America, in Asia, and now in parts of Africa. But private investment, wherever it occurs, must be accompanied by robust competition.
We've learned that lesson in the United States. When a federal judge broke up AT&T, the world's largest telephone monopoly, the results surprised even the fiercest proponents of deregulation. The price of a long-distance telephone call dropped dramatically. New companies, with new jobs, burst onto the scene. And AT&T itself eventually became a stronger company -- more competitive and innovative.
Developments in Chile also illustrate the benefits of private investment and open competition. In 1994, Chile put in place a strongly pro-competitive regulatory structure.
The number of long-distance carriers in Chile increased from one to 12. The portion of homes with telephone service jumped by more than 50 percent. And prices dropped from about two U.S. dollars per minute to about one-fifth of a U.S. dollar per minute. The industry's revenues increased too -- about twice as fast as the overall economy.
Private investment and competition are essential for the GII's development.
So is smart, flexible regulation, the third principle. In order for investors to take risks and competition to take hold, regulations must ensure stability, freedom, and flexibility, while also offering consumers fair prices and wide choices.
In the United States, we regulate many communications industries through an independent agency, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This expert body has the know-how to make technical decisions. And with other agencies in the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Commerce, the FCC has the capacity to monitor changing market conditions.
Just as these new technologies are overthrowing the old commercial order, those of us in government must topple outdated regulatory structures while remaining true to their underlying values and ideals.
Another core principle -- tightly linked to the principles of private investment, competition, and flexible regulations -- is open access. All nations and all parties need to be able to connect to the GII.
The reason can be illustrated, in part, by a principle well-known in computer science as Metcalfe's Law. Metcalfe's Law holds that the power of a computer network increases at roughly the square of the number of people connected to it.
That's why the Internet is growing so fast. The more people who connect, the more other people there are who want to connect. If you double the number of people on line, you quadruple the number of possible ways to link people and combine their talent and ideas.
That is why open access is so important. Keep people off the network, and the networks won't be as valuable. Let people on, and the value everyone derives will soar.
Therefore, the owners of networks must charge non-discriminatory prices for access to their networks. The only way to realize the true promise of the GII is to guarantee that everyone who connects has access to thousands of different information sources -- from video programming to electronic newspapers to computer bulletin boards -- from every nation, in every language.
The fifth and final principle is perhaps the most important -- universal service. We believe that universal service can be a natural outgrowth of the first four principles. Certainly the combination of open access, flexible regulations, competition, and private investment will tug us in that direction. But by themselves they will not take us fully to that destination.
That is why President Clinton and I have challenged our nation's private sector to help connect every school in America to the information superhighway by the end of this decade. And that is why I renew my call for the creation of a Global Digital Library, so all the world's citizens will have quicker and richer access to all the world's information.
Of course, in each nation the exact contours of universal service will differ. But its basic shape should be similar in most locales. For instance, providing basic service at prices people at all income levels can afford, making high quality service available regardless of a person's geographic location or physical ability, and teaching consumers how to use these technologies effectively.
The GII is a historic undertaking. It is strengthened by participation, bolstered by openness, and fortified by strong nations and talented people pursuing dreams of a better tomorrow.
Join me in building the 21st century's first great achievement.