Serving the Community: A public interest vision of the national information infrastructure, CPSR, 1993

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Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), October 1993

The National Information Infrastructure (NII) holds great promise for the future. The convergence of communications technologies and the expansion of network services will transform our society and create unparalleled opportunities. CPSR believes that the benefits of the NII, however, should not be framed solely in economic or functional terms. The nation’s communications infrastructure should reflect the values of a democratic society. Ultimately, the success of the NII program will be measured by whether it empowers citizens, protects individual rights, and strengthens the democratic institutions on which this country was founded.

CPSR believes that the development of the NII must be guided by a set of principles that reflect public- interest values. CPSR endorses the principles proposed by the Telecommunications Policy Roundtable, which are discussed in detail in the body of this report. But principles alone are not enough. Despite the general agreement surrounding public aims, it remains unclear whether these goals will be realized. There are many aspects of the NII planning process that already raise concern, several of which are outlined in this report:


  • The NII may fail to provide universal access.

  • A small number of companies may dominate the network and exert undue influence on its design and operation.

  • There is a danger that carriers will control content on the NII.

  • NII services may emphasize commerce at the expense of communication.

  • Public access to government information may be restricted.

  • The NII may fail to provide a vital public space.

  • The NII may be used to justify the elimination of other essential public services.

  • The NII may fail to protect individual privacy.

  • Global communication using the NII may be restricted.

  • The hardware structure may be chosen without giving adequate consideration to the software implications.