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Politicians wrestle with digital issues.

For information professionals whose memory of the Internet spans the decades back to the 1980s and the 1970s, the impression often given of the network of networks is warp-speed development from birth to adulthood. Fortunately, they can newer Internet users to documents like RFCs (Request for Comments; dspglintdoc.html) dating back to the early 1970s and to organizations like FARNET (, the Federation of American Research Networks, for historical continuity and perspective.

An Advocate for Internetworking

Composed of leading-edge technology companies, FARNET, founded in 1987 as a forum for executives of research networks, now serves as a national advocate for internetworking. Its primary audience is education and research communities, where it exchanges information about the Internet and its applications and services. The nonprofit organization also acts as a catalyst to transfer leading-edge information infrastructure technology through educational programs and workshops and cooperates with national and international organizations to improve the quality of information and services available to network users.

Among its more popular offerings is the Washington Update, a weekly newsletter written from its Washington, DC, office and distributed over the Internet via e-mail. The Update covers legislative, executive branch, and policy events.

Its longtime editor and FARNET director of policy and special projects is Heather Boyles. She is currently on loan to Internet 2 ( as its chief of staff, an organization that has already grown from 35 members in January to 110.

For Boyles, one of the key turning points in the life of the Internet as well as FARNET was the decommissioning of the NSFnet in April 1995. With that event, not only did the membership change, but also its focus was modified.

"When we first started, one topic of discussion was the business plan. Now, after all the buy-outs and mergers, there is a refocusing by members on state initiatives. For example, Missouri with MOREnet [Missouri Research and Education Network;] and New York with NYSERNet [New York State Research and Education Network;] have been quite proactive with state networks with K-qw initiatives and educational connectivity. Along with their efforts, one sign of the times is the passing of multistate nets," explained Boyles.

Among the issues that Boyles identified as hot right now for information professionals are Internet copyright legislation; the Next Generation Internet, or NGI, Initiative; and the Universal Service Fund.

Digital Copyright Legislation

As FARNET pointed out in a recent Washington Update, the House of Representatives introduced three bills on digital copyright before beginning its August recess. These bills continue legislative efforts from last year as Congress tries to address the copyright owners in the new Digital Age. The bills are H.R.2180 (On-Line Copyright Liability Limitation Act), H.R.2265 (No Electric Theft Act), and H.R.2281 (WIPO Copyright Treaties Implementation Act).

"The Internet copyright legislation is really a mixed bag of views," admitted Boyles, "but the information professional can find good information from the Association of Research Libraries [http://] and the American Library Association []. It's important to keep in mind that the issues are not cut and dried -- not just a matter of users vs. publishers. For example, you find on university campuses copyrights holders as well as those who provide access and those who allow use. Also, fair use in the Electronic Age needs more careful definition. The Digital Futures Coalition, composed of library and educational interest groups, says distance learning presents some tough copyright questions and a potential copyright battleground."

While distance learning legislation has yet to be introduced, one can gather information at the Coalition's Web site. The URL is

Boyles noted that the NGI is both an implementation plan, orginally set for release in June, and the second version of a concept paper. In the spirit of national politics, it was released by the White House the day that Congress left town. The bottom line on NGI is that, to be funded, all the bills spread across different agencies have to go to conference. That was not likely to happen before mid to late September, according to Boyles. Information on the current status of NGI is available at the Web site: http:// Additional background can be found at, the National Coordination Office for Computing, Information, and Communications.

Access and Pricing

The third hot issue, the Universal Service Fund, named after a section of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, offers K-12 schools and libraries substantial discounts on telecommunications services, Internet access, and internet connections. Currently there are a number of legal issues involving the FCC and its universal service order that may affect the timing of the discount programs. An excellent Web site for background information and eligibility requirements is Merit (http://www.

One other hot issue for Boyles is the flat rate vs. value-added or fee-based pricing issue that arises in differentiated service. Like many other executives close to the Internet action, she feels it may only be a matter of time before flat rate service goes the way of the dinosaur.

Institution-Wide Information Strategies

CNI hosted a conference in Washington, DC, recently, where nice institutions involved in the Institution-Wide Information Strategies initiative gathered. The goal of the initiative is to identify and promote best practices in information strategies. The aim of the project conference was to help participants prepare case study reports to make them available to larger audiences. The reports will be developed over the next few months. Some of these institutions will present project briefings at the CNI Task Force Meeting on October 26 and 27 in Minneapolis. More information can be found at

Domain Name Controversy

In the continuing controversy of domain names, the Internet Society (ISOC) filed comments with the U.S. Department of Commerce calling for competition in registrations. In its comments, ISOC stated, "True competition in domain name registration is needed to stimulate the growth of global electronic commerce." For ISOC, allowing monopolistic control of registrations would restrict customer freedom of choice. The comments are available at http://www. isoc. org/whatsnew/netnews.html.

John Makulowich is a journalist for The Writers Alliance, Inc. (North Potomac, MD). He may be reached by e-mail at; his home page URL is http;// low/.
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Author:Makulowich, John
Publication:Information Today
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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