Remarks of Assistant Secretary Irving at Educom Net '98

Washington, DC
April 16, 1998
Remarks of Larry Irving
Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Department of Commerce

 

 
Educom Net '98
 
Washington, DC

 

 
April 16, 1998
[as prepared for delivery]

 



I want to thank Sue Fratkin and Mark Luker for inviting me to speak to you today.
 

Virtually every speech about the tremendous growth and opportunity of today's Internet starts off with an acknowledgment that its precursor, the NSFNET, was merely a handful of nuclear physicists and a half dozen computer scientists connected by a few tin cans and some digital string. So, now that I have the opportunity to address so many of the individuals whose groundbreaking accomplishments are often minimized, I would first like to say thank you for your vision, ingenuity, and decades of hard work that built the foundation on which we one day may connect the entire world.
 

I would also like to congratulate Doug Van Houweling from the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID), Vint Cerf of MCI, Joseph Naccio of Qwest, Nortel, Cisco and all of the other organizations and institutions that helped make possible Vice President Al Gore's announcement of the Next Generation Internet. The NGI project, which partners over $500 million in private investments with federal investments for Internet research and development, will help build a faster, more secure and reliable network that will foster new and innovative applications, speed the pace of academic research, and bring terabits of information and new and exciting discoveries to American students. Everyone in the Administration is tremendously excited about the promise this public and private sector partnership brings for education and technology development in this country and eventually across the globe.
 

Under the leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, the United States has a national policy priority to ensure that all of our citizens have access to new technologies and services, so that they gain the important tools and skills needed to succeed in the global economy. Yesterday, Secretary Daley released the Emerging Digital Economy report (http://www.ecommerce.gov) . The report underlines the importance of information technologies to the economy, businesses and consumers. In order to fuel the new electronic economy, we must prepare a pool of talented, skilled workers to fill the positions the industry is expected to create early into the next century. The reality is that technology literacy is becoming just as fundamental to a person's ability to obtain a good job as the traditional "three Rs."
 

And the challenge to prepare the work force for the 21st century will be a great one indeed. In January of this year, the Department of Commerce's Office of Technology Policy (OTP) released an update to last year's report "America's New Deficit: The Shortage of Information Technology Workers." In this update, OTP reports that between 1996 and 2006, the United States will require more than 1.3 million IT workers to fill the U.S. demand for computer scientists and engineers, systems analysts, and computer programmers. Just after the turn of the century, the demand for computer engineers and scientists is expected to increase from 427,000 in 1996 to 912,000; that is an 114 precent increase over 10 years. Similarly, the number of system analysts is projected to double from over 500,000 in 1996 to over 1 million shortly after the turn of the century. Further, the demand for computer programmers is expected to increase by 23 percent to nearly 700,000.
 

To successfully train and educate students to fill these critical positions, the underlying facilities and technologies, such as connections to the NGI, will become a critical component for universities and schools.
 

Networks for People / TIIAP
 

Building terabit-per-second networks, however, doesn't help if they only connect networks to networks. Networks must connect people. The Connect 2 Tomorrow project in Jackson, Mississippi, is an example where this is being accomplished. Connect 2 Tomorrow will use the Internet to provide chronically ill children at the University of Mississippi Medical Center the chance to continue their education and maintain contact with peers, teachers and families.
 

The Mississippi project received a grant from the Department of Commerce's Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) http://www.ntia.doc.gov/otiahome/tiiap/index.html, which is administered by my agency. TIIAP, an acronym only a bureaucrat could love, is a competitive, merit-based program that provides matching grants to state and local governments, libraries, health care providers, community groups, schools, universities, and other not-for-profit entities to access new telecommunications and information technologies. In its first four years, TIIAP has provided $100 million to 332 telecommunications and information projects, leveraging $150 million in local matching funds. It is the most competitive grant program in the country.
 

The grants provided by the TIIAP program help transform the fiber and digital packets of the Internet backbone into real-life applications that work for people.
 

One great example of what our program can accomplish through government and private sector partnership can be found at Minot State University. An institution of higher learning that wanted to meet the challenge of providing distance learning and education to remote areas of northwest North Dakota, Minot State University had an idea to connect the people in those communities via a wide area network. A grant from NTIA's TIIAP program helped make North Dakota Wide Area Network (NDWAN) possible. NDWAN brings distance learning, adult education, university financial aid, and information resources to seven communities in the area. In building the network, the university has found that the more contact the university has with people in the area, the more opportunity people have to direct their efforts in ways that are truly useful.
 

Although the TIIAP grant money has run out for NDWAN, with the help of their private sector partners the network continues to expand and grow, hosting community forums, providing services for the disabled, and offering other on-line services to its Minot State University students and the community.
 

Additional information on the TIIAP program and projects we have funded is located on NTIA's website at www.ntia.doc.gov . I invite you to take a look at some of these projects to see how organizations with modest budgets are making a difference by connecting networks to people. It is truly inspiring. I also hope it will lead to an application from you to the program.
 

Persuading almost any institution, whether it is a large world renowned university, small community oriented college, or private sector partner, to make a significant investment in new and sometimes unproven technology, can be a difficult task. I recently returned from the International Telecommunication Union's Development Conference in Malta, where I heard firsthand the extent to which many developing and underfunded nations are making Internet access for their students and citizens a national priority. In countries such as South Africa, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia and Senegal, where they are facing the challenge of bringing just one telephone to an entire village of people, many public officials, university administrators and research institutions are investing significant amounts of their scarce financial resources into Internet technology. And their investments which would likely seem a pittance to many U.S. institutions of higher education are paying off. The adopters of these technologies are reporting greater collaboration and resource-sharing between academic and research institutions at lower costs.
 

Tomorrow I leave to join Secretary Daley in Argentina for the Latin American Telecommunications Summit (LATS). LATS is an important forum where regional industry and government participants can come together to discuss telecommunications liberalization and freely exchange ideas on telecommunications issues. The Summit is also an excellent setting for U.S. telecommunications companies to promote their services and products. We will bring information on TIIAP and explain how applications of technology are transforming our country in the hope that other countries will work to bring the benefits of information technology to their citizens.
 

E-rate/Universal Service
 

In this country, President Clinton and Vice President Gore have made it our highest priority to connect every school, library, clinic, and hospital to the Internet by the year 2000. The level of interest in the "E-rate," the discounted rate approved by the FCC last year that will enable our schools to become early adopters, is exposing the deep, pent-up demand from our learning institutions for telecommunications technologies that will aid in teaching and learning. To date, 47,000 schools and libraries from across the country have applied to be eligible for the discount. There is extraordinary excitement about this effort.
 

And yet, there are those who argue that we are spending too much money, time, and attention on this issue. Some suggest that we are sacrificing our poor and rural consumers for these concerns. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The "E-rate" discount plan is heavily targeted to the poorest and most rural of our institutions. Its very design embodies our deepest concern for those areas of our country--both geographic and economic--that are least likely to have the resources to keep up with the wave of technical upgrading that is happening in our more affluent and suburban areas.
 

We have a 60 year national commitment to universal service. And let me state unambiguously that we are fully committed to keeping telephone prices across the country affordable, and are working diligently with the FCC to achieve this result. But let us not be distracted by a false choice between rural and poor children and rural and poor households. Both deserve our attention. Both are a priority. And this nation, the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, can and must accomplish both goals.
 

Internet Telephony
 

Another false choice has been created in the debate over universal service and Internet telephony. We can have both a vibrant Internet with innovative new applications and a sufficient, sustainable universal service fund without sacrificing either of these goals. As I said in my letter to the FCC last week, there are legitimate concerns about how new players will contribute to a fair and equitable universal service fund. But to impose an old regime--one that we are trying to reform-- on innovators who are market testing new technologies, at this point in the evolution of these new applications does not make sense. Let me state it another way: Why on earth would we impose an admittedly flawed regulatory regime on a new application that holds so much promise?
 

The FCC correctly understood that this issue and many other issues that arise with the convergence of transmission of bits and computing need a great deal of sorting out. The Commission noted that it is not in the economic interest of our country or supportive of the principle of universal service to thwart the development of applications that may provide a competitive alternative to monopoly offerings.
 

Domain Names
 

Perhaps the driving theme in our discussions about the success of the Internet, and the promise of the NGI initiative, is the success of private sector and government partnership in helping to fund and establish new technologies. However, when and where the private sector can manage the technology on its own, or when government involvement becomes unnecessary or untenable, the Clinton Administration believes that government should let the private sector lead. Private sector leadership is the underlying principle of the Framework for Global Electronic Commerce, the Clinton Administration's approach to electronic commerce policy. As a part of this initiative, private sector leadership is also a central principle in the Administration's policy on Internet domain names.
 

I know that many of you are particularly interested in this issue and I want to keep you up to date as to where we are.
 

As many of you know, major components of today's Internet, including the Internet domain name system, are still performed by or subject to agreements with agencies of the U.S. Government. As the Internet has become an international medium for commerce, education and communication, we believe that it has outgrown the legacy system of technical management, and faces increasing pressure for change from different quarters.
 

As part of the Framework for Global Electronic Commerce, President Clinton directed the Secretary of Commerce to work to privatize, increase competition in, and promote international participation in the Internet domain name system. In keeping with this charge and after a Request for Comment in July 1997, the Department of Commerce, working through an inter-agency process, released Improvement of Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses in January of this year. Don't you love the way bureaucrats speak? The "Green Paper" as it is frequently called proposes the transition of a few, primarily technical Internet functions to a new not-for-profit corporation established by the private sector.
 

I would like to note, however, that the Green Paper as written and released is a proposal of the Department of Commerce. It is not a final statement of Commerce or Administration policy.
 

The purpose of the Commerce Department proposal is to improve the technical management of the DNS only. The Green Paper does not propose a monolithic Internet governance system. We envision that this new corporation, acting for the benefit of the Internet as a whole, would be responsible for coordinating only the assignment of Internet Protocol (IP) numbers, coordinating the assignment of Internet protocols, managing the Internet root server system, and establishing policy for adding new generic top-level domains (gTLDs).
 

The Internet has many constituencies worldwide that all have a stake in the smooth running of the Internet. Accordingly, we believe that to be responsive to the needs of the many stakeholder groups, the new corporation's board of directors should be balanced and represent the functional and geographic diversity of the Internet. Let me repeat that we envision the board to be composed of representatives from the commercial user community, the IP numbering authorities, the technical community, domain name registration bodies, and the not-for-profit user community.
 

We also recognize that the most important component in the transition of these functions to the private sector is maintaining the stability of the Internet for all users. Under the plan proposed in the Green Paper, the U.S. Government would gradually transfer authority over these functions to the new corporation, beginning as soon as possible, with operational responsibility transferred by the end of September 1998. Until the new corporation is established and stable, the U.S. Government would participate in policy oversight, phasing out as soon as possible but in no event later than September 2000.
 

We suggest that the system for registering domain names--the registrar function--and the operational management of generic top-level domains--the registry function--be moved into a competitive environment. We note that, while there appears to be broad consensus that the registrar function should be competitive, we recognize that there is disagreement within the Internet community on whether the registry function should be market-driven. We have received numerous comments on the issue of for profit versus not-for-profit registries and will be studying this issue carefully in the coming weeks.
 

Further, we suggest that the operation and management of the ".edu" top level domain, in which I know many of you are already registered, would shift to a separate not-for-profit entity. We will seek to promote greater use and competition in the ".us" domain, which suffers from a system of rather complex and cumbersome organization.
 

We have received over six hundred and fifty comments on our proposal from commercial entities, not-for-profit organizations, national governments, the academic community and individual end- users world wide. Although the comment period officially closed on March 23, they continue to come in. The comments we received on the Green Paper were extremely thoughtful and constructive and we intend to review and respond to them. However, because NTIA is in the middle of a rulemaking proceeding subject to the Administrative Procedure Act, I will refrain from speculating about the results of our review. We hope that after appropriate modifications are made to the plan in response to public input, reasonable consensus--both internationally and domestically--can be reached in the coming months.
 

The full text of the proposal and all comments received are located on the NTIA web page at www.ntia.doc.gov.