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Networks for People 1998

On December 8-9, 1998, more than 600 leaders in the networking movement gathered in Washington, DC, for the 1998 Networks for People Conference to share the lessons they have learned and to consider what the future holds. Conference participants, who came from 45 states and two foreign countries, had much to discuss. The five years since the inception of the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (later renamed the Technology Opportunities Program) have seen sweeping changes.

According to Larry Irving, then Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, Department of Commerce and Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), kicked off the conference with a speech noting that conference participants shared a common "underlying credo." All were committed to bringing new technologies and their benefits to underserved communities. But, while the information revolution is gaining momentum, it still has a long way to go. According to Larry Irving, "We still have a country in which there are people who are not online. For far too many people in this country, the information revolution is still a rumor — it's something they have heard about, seen on television, but it doesn't affect their lives."

For TIIAP, the conference represented an opportunity to learn about what model projects the program should fund in the future, and what policy issues need to be addressed to make the opportunities of the Information Age available to everybody. But in the final analysis, Irving said, communities should be in the driver's seat. "We want to make sure this movement is community-driven, not Washington-driven," he said.

"We want to go beyond giving basic access to information services and just connecting people," Irving concluded. "We want to build an intricate web across this country, and the web, we hope, will result in stronger communities and better services and, most importantly, better and greater opportunity."

Following Irving's speech, conference participants met in a plenary session to hear speakers describe efforts by the government, universities and the private sector to develop newer, high capacity networks to succeed the current Internet. Speakers discussed what kind of applications might be possible as the new networks get built. Next, after a series of presentations by sponsors of various TIIAP-supported technology projects, the conference featured six breakout sessions focusing on particular aspects of networking. These sessions, like the conference itself, brought together community network builders, health-care providers, educators, economic development leaders, public safety officials, and social service providers and some representatives of private business. TIIAP believes that technology issues often are overlapping, and that people in one sector can have much to learn from people who face similar challenges in other sectors.

On the second day of the conference, participants returned for two plenary sessions. One examined how organizations can adapt to new network technologies. The other, which concluded the conference, examined TIIAP's progress; a group of panelists discussed what TIIAP has achieved to date and what its priorities should be in the future.

See complete conference report.

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