by Vice President Al Gore
to The Superhighway Summit
Royce Hall, UCLA
Los Angeles, California
January 11, 1994
Let me begin by saying it is great to be here at the Television Academy today. I feel as if I have a lot in common with those of you who are members of the Academy. I was on Letterman. I write my own lines.
I'm still waiting for residuals.
At first, I thought that the Letterman show could lead to a whole new image, maybe a new career. No more Leno jokes about being stiffer than the Secret Service, or about being so stiff you need a strobe light to make it look like I'm moving. I thought maybe it would even lead to an opportunity to do some other shows. I was just thrilled when I was asked by "Star Trek: The Next Generation" to come on the show and do a guest shot -- I was crestfallen when they made it clear they wanted me to replace Lieutenant Commander Data.
The historian Daniel Boorstin, who used to be the Librarian of Congress, once wrote that for Americans "nothing has happened unless it is on television." This, of course, leaves out a few major events in our history. But this meeting today is on television -- so apparently it is actually occurring. And it's great to be here.
I join you to outline not only this Administration's vision of the National Information Infrastructure but our proposals for creating it.
Last month in Washington, I set forth some of the principles behind our vision. Today I'll talk about the legislative package necessary to ensure the creation of that national infrastructure in a manner which will connect and empower the citizens of this country through broadband, interactive communication.
We've all become used to stumbling over cliches in our efforts to describe the enormity of the change that is now underway and the incredible speed with which it is taking place. Often we call it a revolution -- the digital revolution.
Speaking of stumbling over cliches, I often used to use the analogy to automobiles, saying that if cars had advanced as rapidly as computer chips over the last few years, a Rolls Royce would go a million miles per hour and cost only twenty-five cents.
That is, I used to use it until I used it at a meeting of computer experts and one of them spoke up and said, "Yeah -- but the Rolls Royce would be about one millimeter long."
In any event, what we have been seeing with this incredible pace of change, especially in the last decade, really is amazing. But even this change is nothing compared to what will happen in the decade ahead. The word revolution by no means overstates the case.
But this revolution is based on traditions that go far back in our history.
Since the transcontinental telegraph that transmitted Abraham Lincoln's election victory -- where they were assembling the vote totals in the East all the way to Califomia in real time for the first time in history -- our ability to communicate electronically has informed and shaped America.
It was only a year before that election that the Pony Express was the talk of the nation, able to send a message across our nation in seven days. Of course, the next year it was out of business.
Today's technology has now made possible a global community united by instantaneous information and analysis. Protesters at the Berlin Wall communicated with their followers through CNN news broadcasts. The fax machine connected us with demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.
So it's worth remembering that while we talk about this digital revolution as if it's about to happen, in many places it is already underway. Even in the White House.
Let me give you an example. The day after the Inauguration, I was astonished to see how relatively primitive the White House communications system was. President Clinton and I took a tour and found operators actually having to pull cords for each call that came in and plug them into the right jack in order to complete the connection. It reminded me of the switchboard used by Ernestine, that wonderful character created by Lily Tomlin.
And there were actually phones like these (PICKS UP STANDARD BLACK AT&T PHONE), straight from the White House. They're still there. We have made some progress. They're only in the press room now.
But these phones just didn't meet our needs. So now we use modern phones. And on trips I use a cellular phone like this one, which some of you have probably used. (PICKS UP CELLULAR PHONE. AS HE DOES, lT RINGS.) Has that ever happened to you when you... Excuse me. Hello? (WE HEAR LILY TOMLIN, AS ERNESTINE THE OPERATOR, ON THE PHONE.)
TOMLIN: A gracious hello. Have I reached... Hello? Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?
GORE: I'm not sure. This is the Vice President.
TOMLIN: The Vice President?
GORE: Al Gore.
TOMLIN: Al Gore? Al Gore? Little Albert? Oh my goodness. This is Emestine the Operator. My wires must have got crossed. I was trying to reach the VP of AT~T. That's a little company I work for sometimes.
GORE: Well, he may be here somewhere. But perhaps I can help you. (TOMLIN WALKS ON STAGE.)
TOMLIN: I'm sure you can help me. Oh, Mr. Vice President, thank you. I think maybe you can help me after all. I'm so glad I have this time with you. I must admit I've been somewhat of a technophobe. Me and my switchboard have been codependent. But I'm not sure exactly which track to take.
GORE: Well, we're...
TOMLIN: Are you sure you can help me?
GORE: We're here talking about the information revolution that's going to provide lots and lots of information to people.
TOMLIN: Yes, but it's been so hard to change. First I had to give up the bell. There is no ringy-dingy any more. There's only this kind of low muffled buzz. And I never see a repairman anymore -- that's the part I really miss. But I want to be a futurist, Mr. Vice President. I want to be a futurist like you because I think, well, frankly, I'd have a better future.
GORE: Well, you may have come to the right place because we're talking about all of these new changes and all of the new information it's going to provide to people.
TOMLIN: Oh, really? Let me pretend that I know nothing about this. See if this is an accurate description. Is it kind of like billions and billions of tiny little BacoBits of valuable information strewn in every direction across that great salad bar in cyberspace? Is that it?
GORE: That's close.
TOMLIN: Or does that sound more like your local Sizzler?
GORE: You've got the part about the bits right, it does involve lots of bits.
TOMLIN: What I really want to know is who's going to connect those bits? Is it going to be the electronically elite, or is it going to be all of us -- the people?
GORE: As a matter of fact, that's also one of the things we're talking about here. We're trying to design it in a way that will help the people and will help you, Ernestine.
TOMLIN: You're not counting me as one of the people, are you?
GORE: Well, yes. And we've got this problem in the White House I was telling these folks about earlier. We're trying to get rid of the old switchboard. Now, you know about these billions of bits. Do you think you might be willing to give us your switchboard and equipment and help us in the White House?
TOMLIN: Have access to your telephone calls? In a heartbeat. (SHE HANDS HrM HER HEADSET.) Here, give this to the Smithsonian. I'm going to go now to the library so that I can cram and fill up with information and lots of those little info bits. It's been a pleasure. Give my best to Tipper.
She is terrific.
Our new ways of communicating after this revolution will entertain as well as inform. More importantly, they will educate, promote democracy, and save lives. And in the process they will also create a lot of new jobs. In fact, they're already doing it.
The impact on America's businesses will not be limited just to those who are in the information business, like Ernestine. Virtually every business will find it possible to use these new tools to become more competitive. And by taking the lead in quickly employing these new information technologies, America's businesses will gain enormous advantages in the worldwide marketplace. And that is important because if America is to prosper, we must be able to manufacture goods within our borders and sell them not just in Tennessee but Tokyo -- not just in Los Angeles but Latin America
Last month, when I was in Central Asia, the President of Kyrgyzstan told me his eight-year-old son came to him and said, "Father, I have to learn English."
"But why?" President Akayev asked.
"Because, father, the computer speaks English."
By now, we're becoming familiar with the ability of the new communications technologies to transcend international boundaries and bring our world closer together. But many of you are now in the process of transcending other old boundaries -- the boundary lines which have long defined different sectors of the information industry. The speed with which these boundaries are eroding is quite dramatic.
I'm reminded of an idea of Stephen Hawking, the British physicist. Hawking has Lou Gehrig's disease. But thanks to information technology he can still communicate not only with his students and colleagues but with millions around the world. Incidentally, I read the other day that his voice box has an American accent -- because it was developed here in California.
Anyway, in that American accent, Hawking has speculated about a distant future when the universe stops expanding and begins to contract. Eventually, all matter comes colliding together in what he calls the "Big Crunch," which many scientists say could then be followed by another "Big Bang" -- a universe expanding outward once again.
Our current information industries -- cable, local telephone, long distance telephone, television, film, computers, and others -- seem headed for a Big Crunch/Big Bang of their own. The space between these diverse functions is rapidly shrinking -- between computers and televisions, for example, or between interactive communication and video.
But after the next Big Bang, in the ensuing expansion of the information business, the new marketplace will no longer be divided along current sectoral lines. There may not be cable companies or phone companies or computer companies, as such. Everyone will be in the bit business -- and I don't mean the Baco-Bit business. The functions provided will define the marketplace. There will be information conduits, information providers, information appliances and information consumers.
That's the future. It's easy to see where we need to go. It's hard to see how we get there from here. When faced with the enormity and complexity of the transition, some retreat to the view best enunciated years ago by Yogi Berra when he said, "What we have here is an insurmountable opportunity."
Not long ago this transition did seem too formidable to contemplate, but that is no longer the case. Because a remarkable consensus has now emerged throughout our country -in business, in public interest groups and in government. This consensus begins with agreement on the right, specific questions we must answer together.
How can government ensure that the information marketplace emerging on the other side of this Big Crunch will permit everyone to be able to compete with everyone else for the opportunity to provide any service to all willing customers? Next, how can we ensure that this new marketplace reaches the entire nation? And then how can we ensure that it fulfills the enormous promise of education, economic growth and job creation?
Today I will provide our Administration's answers to those questions. But before I do let me state my firm belief that legislative and regulatory action alone will not get us where we need to be. This Administration argued in our National Performance Review last year that government often acts best when it sets clear goals, acts as a catalyst for the national teamwork required to achieve them, and then lets the private and non-profit sectors move the ball downfield.
It was in that spirit that then-Governor Clinton and I, campaigning for the White House in 1992, set as a vital national goal linking every classroom in every school in the United States to the National Information Infrastructure.
It was in this same spirit that less than a month ago I pointed out that when it comes to telecommunications services, schools are the most impoverished institutions in society. And that has to change.
And so I have been pleased that so many companies participating in the communications revolution are now talking about voluntarily providing free access to the NII for every classroom in their service areas. And I would like to take the opportunity -today to congratulate two companies, Bell Atlantic and TCI, for their joint announcement yesterday in which they both individually committed to do just that. That's leadership from the private sector.
Setting goals for ourselves is important. Setting the right goals is critical.
So let me be clear here today in articulating what I believe is one of the most important goals for all of us to agree to at this meeting: That by January 11th of the year 2000, you will connect and provide access to the National Information Infrastructure for every classroom, every library, and every hospital and clinic in the entire United States of America.
I challenge all of the CEO's who are on the panel and in the audience during the CEO Summit at the end of the day to make this commitment at the conclusion of your meeting, and then to challenge in turn the CEO's of every other company in your industries to accept and help us meet this goal. If you will make this commitment today, our Administration will issue the same challenge to state regulators, governors, mayors, school boards, teachers, librarians, hospital administrators and citizens throughout this country.
By meeting this challenge we can realize the full potential of the information revolution to educate, to save lives, provide access to health care and lower medical costs.
Our nation can and must meet this challenge. The best way to do it is by working together. Just as communications industries are moving to the unified information marketplace of the future, so must we move from the traditional adversarial relationship between business and government to a more productive relationship based on consensus. We must build a new model of public-private cooperation that, if properly pursued, can bring great benefits to the American people and avoid the huge transaction costs which are often associated with the old, adversarial approach.
But make no mistake about it -- one way or another, we will meet this goal. The American people want it. Industry supports it. Our future demands it. It is one of the principal reasons we are moving this year on national telecommunications reform.
As I announced last month, we will introduce a legislative package that aggressively confronts the most pressing telecommunications issues, and is based on five principles.
This Administration will:
-- Encourage Private Investment
-- Provide and Protect Competition
-- Provide Open Access to the Network
-- Take Action To Avoid Creating a Society of Information "Haves" and "Have Nots"
-- Encourage Flexible and Responsive Govemmental Action
Many of you have our White Paper today, outlining the bill in detail. If you did not get your copy, it's available on the Internet, right now.
Let me run through the highlights with you briefly -- and talk about how they grow out of our five principles.
We begin with two of our basic principles -- the need for private investment and fair competition. The nation needs private investment to complete the construction of the National Information Infrastructure. And competition is the single most critical means of encouraging that private investment.
I referred earlier to the use of the telegraph to bring the news here to Califomia in 1860 of Abraham Lincoln's election. Congress had funded Samuel Morse's first demonstration for the telegraph in 1844. Morse then suggested to the Congress that a national system be built by the federal government. But Congress said no and insisted that private investment should build that information infrastructure. And that's what happened to the great and continuing competitive advantage of our country to this day.
Today, we must choose competition again and protect it against both suffocating regulation on the one hand and unfettered monopolies on the other.
To understand why competition is so important, we need only recall what has happened since the breakup of AT&T ten years ago this month.
As recently as 1987, AT&T was still projecting that it would take until the year 2010 to convert 95% of its long distance network to digital technology.
Then it became pressed by the competition. And as a result, AT&T made its network virtually 100% digital by the end of 1991. Meanwhile, over the last decade the price of interstate long distance service for the average residential customer declined over 50%.
Now it's time to take the next step. We must open the local telephone exchanges, those wires and switches that link homes and offices to the local telephone companies.
The pressure of competition on the information superhighway will be great -- and it will drive continuing advancements in technology, quality and cost. Incidentally, when I first coined the phrase "information superhighway" 15 years ago, I was not prepared for some of the unusual images it would ultimately bring into our language. For example, one businessman made this point I'm making here about competition and the pressure of competition when he told me last week that his company was accelerating its investment in new technology to avoid ending up as "road kill on the information superhighway." And just this week I received a letter from a group of companies wanting to be allowed to compete, who complained that they were scared of being "parked at the curb" on the information superhighway.
In any event, to take one example of what competition means, cable companies, electric utilities and long distance companies must be free to offer two-way communications and local telephone service. To accomplish this goal, our legislative package will establish a federal standard that permits entry to the local telephone markets. Moreover, the FCC will be authorized to reduce regulation for telecommunications carriers that lack market power.
We expect open competition to bring lower prices and better services. But let me be clear: We insist upon safeguards to ensure that new corporate freedoms will not be translated into sudden and unjustified rate increases for telephone customers.
The advancement of competition will necessarily require more opportunity, as well, for the Regional Bell Operating Companies. Current restrictions on their operations are themselves the legacy of the break-up of AT&T and must now be re-examined.
The Administration endorses the basic principles of the Brooks-Dingell bill, which proposes a framework for allowing long-distance and local telephone companies to compete against each other.
Regulation and review of this framework should be transferred from the courts to the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.
This process of change must be carefully calibrated. We must make sure that the Regional Bells will not be able to use their present monopoly positions as unfair leverage into new lines of business. That is why the Administration supports the approach of the Brooks-Dingell provision that requires the approval of the Department of Justice and the FCC before the Regional Bells may provide interexchange services -- most notably in long distance.
In working with Congress, the Administration will explore the creation of incentives for the Regional Bells. We want to increase the transparency of those facility-based local services that raise concerns associated with cross-subsidization and abuses of monopoly power.
Our view of the entry of local telephone companies into cable television also balances the advantages of competition against the possibility of competitive abuse. We will continue therefore to bar the acquisition of existing cable companies by telephone companies within their local service areas. We need this limitation to ensure that no single giant entity controls access to homes and offices. But to increase diversity and benefit consumers, we will permit telephone companies to provide video programming over new, open access systems.
Even these measures, however, may not eliminate all scarcity in the local loop -- of course, the local loop meaning those information byways that provide the last electronic connection with homes and offices. For some time, in many places, there are likely to be only one or two broadband, interactive wires, probably owned by cable or telephone companies. In the long run, the local loop may contain a wider set of competitors offering a broad range of interactive services, including wireless, microwave and direct broadcast satellite.
But for now we cannot assume that competition in the local loop will end all of the accrued market power of past regulatory advantage and market domination.
We cannot permit the creation of information bottlenecks that adversely affect information providers who use the highways as a means of supplying their customers.
Nor can we can permit bottlenecks for information consumers who desire programming that may not be available through the wires that enter their homes or offices.
Preserving the free flow of information requires open access, our third basic principle. How can you sell your ideas, your information, your programs, if an intermediary who is also your competitor has the means to unfairly block your access to customers? We cannot subject the free flow of content to artificial constraints at the hands of either government regulators or would-be monopolists.
We must also guard against unreasonable technical obstacles. We know how to do this; we've seen this problem in our past. For example, when railroad tracks were different sizes, a passenger could not travel easily from a town served by one railroad to a town served by another. But the use of standardized tracks permitted the creation of a national system of rail transport.
Accordingly, our legislative package will contain provisions designed to ensure that each telephone carrier's networks will be readily accessible to other users. We will create an affirmative obligation to interconnect and to afford nondiscriminatory access to network facilities, services, functions and information -- with the customer keeping the same telephone number. We must also ensure the future of non-commercial broadcasting; there must be public access to the information superhighway.
These measures will preserve the future within the context of our present regulatory structures. But in our view that's not enough. We must move toward a regulatory approach that encourages investment, promotes competition and secures open access. And one that's not just a patch-work quilt of old approaches, but is instead a new approach that promotes fair competition in the future.
We begin with a simple idea: similar entities must be treated similarly. But let's be clear: Our quest for equal treatment of competing entities will not blind us to the economic realities of the new information marketplace, where apparent similarities may mask important differences.
This idea is best expressed in the story about the man who went into a restaurant and ordered the rabbit stew.
When it came, he took a few bites, then called the manager over. and said "This doesn't taste like rabbit stew!" "It tastes ... well, it tastes like horse meat!"
The manager was embarrassed, and he admitted that he had run out of rabbit, and he said, "Well, I did put some horse meat in it."
The guy said, "How much horse meat did you put in it?"
The manager said, "Well, it's equally divided."
The customer said, "What do you mean, 'equally divided'?"
He said, "Well, one rabbit, one horse."
Maybe the lesson is obvious. A start-up local telephone company isn't the same as a Baby Bell.
What we favor is genuine regulatory symmetry. That means that regulation must be based on the services that are offered and the ability to compete -- not on corporate identity, regulatory history or technological process.
For example, our legislative package will grant the Federal Communications Commission the future authority, under appropriate conditions, to impose non-discriminatory access requirements on cable companies. As cable and telephone service become harder and harder to distinguish, this provision will help to ensure that labels derived from past regulatory structures are not translated into inadvertent and unfair competitive advantages.
As different services are grouped within a single corporate structure, we must ensure that these new, combined entities are not caught in a cross-fire of conflicting and duplicative regulatory burdens and standards. This Administration will not let existing regulatory structures impede or distort the evolution of the communications industry.
In the information marketplace of the future, we will obtain our goals of investment, competition and open access only if regulation matches the marketplace. That requires a flexible, adaptable regulatory regime that encourages the widespread provision of broadband, interactive digital services.
That's why the Administration proposes the creation of an alternative regulatory regime that is unified, as well as symmetrical. Our new regime would not be mandatory, but it would be available to providers of broadband, interactive services. Such companies could elect to be regulated under the current provisions of the Communications Act or under a new title, Title VII, that would harmonize those provisions in order to provide a single system of regulation. These "Title VII" companies would be able to avoid the danger of conflicting or duplicative regulatory burdens. But in return, they would provide their services and access to their facilities to others on a nondiscriminatory basis.
The nation would thus be assured that these companies would provide open access to information providers and consumers and the benefits of competition, including lower prices and higher-quality services, to their customers.
This new method itself illustrates one of our five principles -- that govemment must be flexible. Our proposals for symmetrical, and ultimately unified, regulation demonstrate how we will initiate government action that furthers our substantive principles but that adapts, and disappears, as the need for government intervention changes -- or ends. They demonstrate, as well, the new relationship of which I spoke earlier -- the private and public sectors working together to fulfill our common goals.
The principles that I have described thus far will build an open and free information marketplace. They will lower prices, stimulate demand and expand access to the National Information Infrastructure.
They will, in other words, help to attain our final basic principle -- avoiding a society of information "haves" and "have nots".
There was a Washington Post headline last month that read this way: "Will the 'Information Superhighway' Detour the Poor?" Not if we have anything to do about it. Our Administration believes that it is basic to require that all be served. After all, governmental action to ensure universal service has been part of American history since the days of Ben Franklin's Post Office. We will have in our legislative package a strong mandate to ensure universal service in the future -- and I want to explain why.
We have become an information-rich society. Almost 100% of households have radio and television, and about 94% have telephone service. Three-quarters of all households have a VCR, about 60% now have cable, and roughly 30% of households have personal computers.
As the information infrastructure expands in breadth and depth, so too will our understanding of the services that are deemed essential. This is not a matter of guaranteeing the right to play video-games. It is a matter of guaranteeing access to essential services.
We cannot tolerate -- nor in the long run can this nation afford -- a society in which some children become fully educated and others do not; nor can we tolerate a society in which some adults have access to training and lifetime education, and others do not.
Nor can we permit geographic location to determine whether the information highway passes by your door. I've spoken often about a vision of a schoolchild in my home town of Carthage, Tennessee being able to come home after school, turn on her computer and plug into the Library of Congress. Carthage is a small town. Its population is only about 2,000. So let me emphasize the point: We must work to ensure that no geographic region of the United States, rural or urban, is left without access to broadband, interactive service. Yes, we support opening the local telephone exchange to competition. But we will not permit the dismantling of our present national networks.
All this won't be easy. It is critically important, therefore, that all carriers must be obliged to contribute, on an equitable and competitively neutral basis, to the preservation and advancement of universal service.
The responsibility to design specific measures to achieve these aims will be delegated to the Federal Communications Commission and, of course, to the states. But where the FCC is concerned, their actions will be required in the legislation. They have the flexibility, and it will be carefully defined. But our basic goal is simple: There will be universal service; that definition will evolve as technology and the infrastructure advance; and the FCC -- and we're confident the states as well -- will get the job done.
Reforming our communications laws is only one element of the Administration's NII agenda. We'll be working hard to invest in critical information infrastructure technologies. We'll promote applications of the NII in areas such as scientific research, energy efficiency and advanced manufacturing. We'll work to deliver government services more efficiently. We'll also update our policies to make sure that privacy and copyright are protected in the networked world.
We'll help law enforcement agencies thwart criminals and terrorists who might use advanced telecommunications to commit crimes.
The Administration is working with industry to develop the new technologies needed for the Information Infrastructure Initiative.
I have been working as well with the First Lady's Health Care Task Force, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and others to develop ways we can use networks to improve the quality of health care.
Beginning this month, we are concentrating first of all on the legislative package that I outlined earlier. We haven't invented all of the ideas that it contains. Representatives Dingell and Brooks, Markey and Fields, Boucher and Oxley -- and Senators Hollings, Inouye, and Danforth -- have all focused on these issues in constructive ways.
In many ways our legislative goals reflect or complement their work. We expect to introduce our legislative package in short order, and to work with Congress to ensure speedy passage this year of a bill that will stand the test of time.
Our efforts are not, of course, confined only to government. The people in this room, and the private sector in general, symbolize the importance of private enterprise.
Our economic future will depend in a real sense on your ability to grasp opportunity and turn it into concrete achievement.
As we move into the new era, we must never lose sight of our heritage of innovation and entrepreneurship.
In some ways, we appreciate that heritage more when we see countries that don't have it. Last month, in Russia, I had a chance to see close up a country that tried to hold back the information age -- a country that used to put armed guards in front of copying machines. In a way I guess we should be grateful they did that; it helped to strengthen the desire and courage of the Russian people to bring about the end of Communism.
My hope is that now Central and Eastern Europe and all the states of the former Soviet Union can use technology and the free market to build democracy -- and not thwart it.
And my hope is that America, born in revolution, can lead the way in this new, peaceful world revolution.
Let's work on it together.
A few months ago, Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It was a proud and signal moment for this country: Recognition of an African-American woman who has communicated her insight and narrative power to readers all over the world.
In her acceptance speech, Toni Morrison used one version of an old story -- a parable, really -- to make an interesting point.
It was about a blind old woman renowned for her wisdom, and a boy who decided to try to play a trick on her. He captured a small bird, cupped it in his hands, and said to her, "Old woman, is this bird alive or dead?"
If she said "Dead," he planned to set it free and prove her wrong. If she said "Alive," he planned to quickly crush its life away and prove her wrong.
She thought a moment and said, "The answer is in your hands."
Her point is that the future of language is in our hands. Or put more broadly, the future of communications.
As we prepare to enter the new millennium, we are learning a new language. It will be the lingua franca of the new era. It is made up of ones and zeros and bits and bytes. But as we master it, as we bring the digital revolution into our homes and schools, we will be able to communicate ideas and information -- in fact, entire Toni Morrison novels -- with an ease never before thought possible.
And so we meet today on common ground, not to predict the future but to make firm the arrangements for its arrival. Let us master and develop this new language together.
The future really is in our hands.