Federal Policies Focus of FLICC Quarterly Meeting
Recent commercials mocking Internet surfers and chat rooms tell a story: the Web has become big business. What they do not reveal are the ways the Web may endanger educational, government, and non-profit information providers and their customers.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 sparked a blaze of entertainment and telecom mergers which, critics predict, will continue to homogenize online information. Educators and policy makers worry that the proliferation of flashy commercial and entertainment sites may crowd out civic and educational sites, and blur the lines between information and advertising. The act also set guidelines for universal access to telecommunications and related services through discounts for schools, libraries, rural health care providers, and rural areas. How these organizations will be affected is yet to be seen.
On March 6, FLICCs annual Forum on Federal Information Policies examined the intentions and implementation of the Telecommunications Act and its possible impact on universal service. Speakers also discussed strategies for providing reliable civic and educational information; filtering and evaluating existing online resources; and coordinating federal acquisition and management of information technology.
Former Senator Larry Pressler (R -South Dakota), sponsor of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, described the struggle surrounding the laws passage and the competing interests which helped to shape it. Passed in February of 1996 after many years of debate, the 1996 Act amended the Communications Act of 1934 with the most sweeping reforms in over 30 years. This amendment dissolved regulations which Pressler called an "apartheid" between the long distance carriers, local telephone companies and cable companies, broadcasters, and utility companies.
"We wanted to start by getting everybody into everybodys business," Pressler said. Although the act provides many incentives for competition, he said that he would have "gone much further, deregulated more." Yet, compromise was necessary for the Acts passage, as petitioners, ranging from international, multinational corporations to rural school teachers, lobbied Congress to consider their interests.
"Its a very complex piece of legislation," Pressler said. "It was like playing a chess game where everyone had a check."
One compromise strategy the acts authors used was to phase in changes over different periods of time. For example, home alarm companies which connect to police stations successfully argued for a five-year grace period before regional Bells could enter their business. Similarly, cable companies have three years before they will face stiffer competition. Unfortunately, this has led to public confusion and anger over delays in the rate changes and service choices promised by politicians when the bill was passed.
"The act has been a seeping change and has been accepted internationally, but has gotten very bad press," said Pressler. In February of 1997, several countries committed to telecommunications policies similar to the 1996 act after a series of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations. Pressler predicted that the resulting open telecom market would benefit England, which has privatized many industries in the last decade. "They will lead Europes economy," he said. "We are a very regulated economy in comparison."
Keynote Speaker Eliot Maxwell, Deputy Chief of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Office of Plans and Policy, outlined the FCCs plans for implementing the new acts provisions. He characterized the agencys efforts as construction of "a foundation as opposed to a building"-- a base to support a still unpredictable architecture of providers and services.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 assigned the FCC specific tasks and deadlines designed to enhance competition, incentives for investment, technological innovation, deregulation, and affordable access. These tasks addressed what Maxwell termed "The Competition Trilogy"--interconnection, universal service, and access reform.
On August 8, 1996, the agency released its Interconnection Order, which mandated that incumbent regional telecommunications companies provide:
"We had to remove the barriers to entry," said Maxwell, "take them out root and branch and move out of the way." Possible competitors for local telephone customers include interexchange carriers, cable companies, wireless providers, and utilities.
By May 8, 1997, the FCC must take actions to enforce universal service provisions. Maxwell explained that in the past, local phone companies ran a "pricing shell game," subsidizing service to rural areas or those whose geography made them difficult to service by charging urban and business customers more. In the competitive climate fostered by the new act, this system will have to be replaced by explicit contributions from interstate providers. All service providers must contribute through specific, predictable, and sufficient mechanisms.
There are controversies about which services should be "universally" provided. General guidelines suggest that all consumers, including low-income consumers, should have access to just, reasonable, affordable rates and advanced service, which include:
Additional recommendations include:
The FCC must also ensure that telecommunications providers offer discounted services to elementary and secondary schools, and libraries. Discounts may range from 20 to 90 percent, depending on the location and resources of the school or library; this program will be subsidized up to $2.25 billion/year.
Rates for rural health-care providers must be comparable to those paid by their urban peers. Special services recommended by a Tele-Health Advisory Committee include: eliminating distance charges; providing bandwidth up to 1.544 Mbps; providing "toll free" Internet access; and insuring infrastructure upgrades and interoperability.
The FCC must also settle issues of access reform by May 8 of this year. Fees charged to long distance carriers by local carriers for use of their lines must be reduced and restructured so that they are more efficient.
Finally, Maxwell said the FC will have to grapple with policy questions raised by Internet growth. "Were seeing the evolution of data networks rather than voice networks--a very exciting process." Issues of network congestion, reliability, service quality, and investment, however, are problematic, as are questions of universal service and controversies over Internet content.
He provided a number of links for audience members interested in learning more:
Andrew Blau, Director of Communications Policy and Practice at the Benton Foundation, was the principal organizer of the Public Interest Summit--the first national meeting that brought together leaders from nonprofit organizations, foundations, and the Clinton Administration to discuss public interest policies in communications. Blau also serves on the Executive Committee of the Urban Libraries Council and is an advisor to Microsofts initiative to bring networked computers to public libraries. He discussed the role of libraries in US universal service practices.
"Without the professional commitment of people trained in library science, technical efforts to provide universal service end up as empty promises," said Blau. He compared the long tradition of universal service by libraries to the relatively recent commitment to this principle by telecommunications companies, and noted even more recent innovations in universal service introduced by the Telecommunications Act.
"Originally, universal service meant a phone in a village," said Blau. "Institutions were not part of this universe, except they paid higher rates to keep local rates low." However, the Act designates libraries and schools as beneficiaries of universal service.
It remains to be seen whether this institutional model will help serve low-income communities. For institutions, it is not clear what "universal service" will include or what it may exclude. Controversies are already raging about minors downloading pornography at local libraries; such incidents may lessen citizen enthusiasm for library link-ups.
But Blau is optimistic. "Libraries wont just get a line to the front door," he said. "They will get support for basic infrastructure like wiring and services." The Joint Board of Recommendations also suggested a plan that Blau calls "provocative", where libraries may help to pay for equipment and subscriptions to databases by auctioning off their discounted services to organizations ineligible for such a discount.
In any case, Blau concluded, libraries serve a crucial function in the new information age. "Harmonizing all of the traditions of universal service is the only way to make gains," he said.
David Turetsky, Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, supervises the divisions work in the telecommunications and media areas, including investigations, litigation, and the filing of regulatory comments. He spoke about recent agreements among G-7 countries to adapt trade guidelines comparable to those outlined in the Telecommunications Act. (For more information on this agreement, see the recent press releases and background documents at the World Trade Organization site, http://www.wto.org/.)
"It is a brave new world," said Turetsky, " but not the frightening one of Huxley." The agreement ends a 60-year tradition of closed international telecommunications markets. Seventy countries participated in the agreement, representing 95 percent of international telecommunications dollars. The new trade guidelines allow US companies to acquire a significant stake in foreign telecommunications companies, and vice versa. Regulatory principles, similar to those enforced by the FCC, provide competitive safeuards: transparency, dispute settlement mediation, public availability of license criteria, and the voluntary establishment of universal service policies.
"Its a tremendous sea of change and conversion in world outlook," Turetksy said. The concept of local telephone providers having a "natural monopoly" no longer holds true. Open markets allow for the rapid development of telecom infrastructures. As an example, he mentioned countries which do not have a stable telecommunications infrastructure, and how they are leapfrogging over wire-based communications to use cellular service.
Countries did not agree to the trade guidelines because they wished to follow the US, explained Turetsky. In fact, he said, "if the US says it, theyll hate it. But their own national interests depended on an agreement being reached."
He spoke about domestic anti-trust policy in the wake of the Act. His division examines mergers to monitor possible violations which might provide corporations with an unfair advantage. "I am not afraid of mergers as an anti-trust enforcer," said Turetsky. "But it is my job to keep a sharp and focused eye on the affects of this on competition."
He praised the US anti-trust statute, noting that he is often visited by representatives of countries with no strong anti-trust tradition. Because they do not have a specific law against the formation of monopolies, they must fight long anti-trust battles in court. "America has a century-old statute which is only a couple of sentences long, but it really catapulted our country forward in telecommunications," said Turetsky.
Lawrence Grossman, former President of NBC News and PBS and the author of The Electronic Republic: Reshaping Democracy in the Information Age, presented the afternoon keynote speech. A former professor of communications and a noted commentator on the role of television in society, Grossman discussed the role of broadcast and electronic media in informing and involving US citizens in politics.
"Digital television has unmatched political potential," said Grossman. He noted that current communications technologies such as fax, email, and toll-free numbers have allowed the people to displace the press as the most important outside influence on the government.
New telecommunications media are pouring oil on the publics discontent," he said, and the US is emerging as the "worlds first electronic republic."
In an environment where citizens can directly affect public policy, it is crucial that they have access to accurate, unbiased information about issues. Current trends in Internet development, however, are moving in the opposite direction: toward large commercial and entertainment sites hosted by media conglomerates with a vested interest in promoting certain products and companies.
"There is a stranglehold of escapist video on our democracy," said Grossman. "The nation is becoming saturated with mass-appeal entertainment." He warned that there is a shift from democracy to demography, citing a 4000 percent increase in opinion polling.
The Internet has the potential to act as an empowering and interactive civic medium, allowing for the airing of neglected opinions, electronic town meetings, and online balloting. For this to happen, uninterested parties must establish fora for quality information and unmonitored political discussion. Grossman suggested the formation of a third network, an "interactive, public service freeway" run neither by the government or by commercial conglomerates.
He proposed that current public information centers--the Library of Congress, PBS, NPR, museums, and universities--be funded to operate such a civic throughway by means of a tax on the sale of the public spectrum." These organizations have a well-established reputation for impartiality and professionalism, and they are all strapped for cash," Grossman said. He compared the establishment and funding of such a coalition to the establishment of land grant colleges in the mid 1800s.
Is there an audience for the type of civic and educational information network tha Grossman proposes? "Even if we have the highest disregard for the public, we have no choice," he answered. "We have an obligation to provide civic information."
The first afternoon panel, which addressed screening and filtering of online information, featured presentations from William Burrington, Director of Law and Public Policy for America Online, and Peggy Garvin,Information Research Specialist for the Library of Congress Congressional Research Service (CRS).
In addition to his work at AOL, Burrington is Vice Chair of the Board of the Interactive Services Association, an advisory committee member of the US Congressional Internet Caucus, and a Fellow of the Cyberspace Law Institute. He has testified as an expert witness in the last years trials challenging the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).
The CDA, which passed as part of the Telecommunications Act, put Internet Service Providers (IPSs) on the defensive. AOL and other large ISPs have worked to develop and promote blocking software which prevents children from accessing "indecent" information.
"We tried to set a standard for the medium to leave control up to individual users," said Burrington. In addition to screening for "indecent" content, he suggested that blocking software may be used by companies and communities who do not want users to have access to certain online information.
For more information about filtering software, see the World Wide Web Consortium site, http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/PICS/.
Peggy Garvin has managed information technology for CRS since 1987. She publishes an internal newsletter, CRD Searcher, to inform co-workers about relevant online resources.
"When everyone has access to a universe of information," she asked, "why would they need a librarian?" She provided several answers:
She encouraged information professionals to become familiar with resources in their agencys or organizations field and to create resources which showcase that expertise.
The days final panel addressed new governmental approaches to information technology management.
David Plocher, Democratic Counsel for the Senate Committee of Governmental Affairs, has worked on a number of management laws relating to government information policy. These include the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Information Technology Management Reform Act, and the Government Performance and Results Act. He noted that "agencies have a poor record of using public information." Problems include a lack of incentives for data-sharing between agencies, a discrepancy between technology programs and agency missions, and an abundance of "IRM for IRMs sake."
He explained the OMBs criteria for evaluating information-related activities:
"You need to ask what have you done for your program lately?" he said.
The Forum closed with remarks from Emmett Paige, Assistant Secretary of Defense and CIO, Department of Defense, the Pentagon.
General Paige served in the US Army from 1947-1988, holding numerous important positions in communications systems and technology. After a stint in the private sector, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence in 1993. In 1996, he received the Visionary Award of the Year from Communications Week. Paige spoke about the newly minted role of agency CIOs. "The CIO of each agency has been given a seat at the table to improve the way our government works, said. "The Department of Defense is trying to use its seat carefully, because everybody out there will be looking to see how we implement the CIO Act."
Paige acknowledged the difficulty of making changes in entrenched systems. He observed that the DoD has more than 100 accounting systems, and questioned the need for the duplication of efforts in this and other areas.
"We must find processes to continually update systems and incorporate new technologies while theyre still new," he said. It is also crucial, however, to use standardized programs and data and a common operating environment.
"We have an unprecedented opportunity to change the way our government operates," he concluded. "Its a management problem, not a technology problem. The technology is here to do what needs to be done."
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Work is well underway on the revised FLICC Performance Plan for 1997. The FLICC Executive Board (FEB) reviewed and commented on the plan and their work was immediately integrated into the plan.
FEB members focused on the Mission Effectiveness activities, particularly those relating to advocacy and transition to digitally-based services. To "increase the visibility and appreciation of library/information services within the federal sector," FLICC sponsored a symposium on advocacy last December and focused the 1996 FLICC quarterly meetings on methods of demonstrating libraries impact on federal programs. The FLICC Education Working Group is now developing an advocacy home page for federal libraries and information centers. Other suggestions for advocacy efforts include: educating agency managers above the library about the worth and impact of libraries/information centers; hiring a publicist to develop a promotion program for libraries/information centers; persuading OMB and NPR that libraries should be classified as an "inherently governmental function" under A-76 because of the value of continuity in collections and services; getting the attention of the new CIO Council to understand the benefits of an information partnership between libraries and IRM staff -- i.e., content experts and technology specialists.
Another item on our 1997 performance plan is: "Assist federal agencies in their transition to digital document preparation, distribution and access." FEB members noted the importance of LCs leadership in this area with its National Digital Library program. A major challenge of moving to digital services is the necessity to train and guide clients who use information services remotely from their offices or homes. FLICC is already exploring a variety of questions:
Other suggestions included: Develop training to teach cataloging of Internet resources; help libraries become leaders in their agencies GILS access programs; establish FEDLINK contracts for digital conversion of full-text and images; establish FEDLINK contracts for technology, such as Site-Search, to help libraries provide a seamless, user-friendly presentation of digital resources, whether internal or external; and help develop common solutions to archiving electronic sources and allowing shared access.
The FEB also added another activity under Mission Effectiveness: helping libraries/information centers improve the quality and diversity of federal library/information center staff. Several initiatives under consideration include developing appealing recruitment materials that can be used by all federal libraries and information centers, sponsoring internship or residency programs for library students in the federal sector, or making other special efforts to attract minorities. FLICCs VISION 2000 sees federal libraries and information centers "nurturing and developing a competent, service-oriented, diverse staff who are committed to the agency mission..." If you are interested in this issue, in OPs qualifications for information/library professionals, or in collecting sample p.d.s under OPMs new classification standards for the 1410, 1411, and 1412 series, please consider volunteering for FLICCs reconstituted Personnel Working Group, under the leadership of Tad Downing, GPO.
If you have comments or suggestions on any of these issues, please call (202-707-4800), email [email protected], or write to me. I need to hear from you to make sure we continue to direct our efforts to meet your needs.
Susan M. Tarr, Executive Director, FLICC
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At the February FLICC Membership meeting, two guests speakers reviewed information issues at both the congressional and federal agency levels.
Jane Bortnick Griffith, Specialist in Information Technology Policy, Science Policy Research Division, CRS, LC, gave a Legislative Update of the 105th Congress, suggesting that the 105th Congress is more bipartisan and more interested in working with the Executive Branch than the 104th. She felt the current Congress has three key areas of information policy focus: access to government information, Internet policy, and information resources management.
Bortnick began by alerting FLICC members to looming revisions for Title 44 (also known as the Paperwork Reduction Act). She announced that Senator Warner, a member of the Joint Committee on Printing, has appointed a new committee staff director who will be involved in these revisions.
She also discussed the many issues about information moving to Web sites and how Federal Depository Libraries will be involved. "The current open Congress is very interested in ensuring public access to issues of cyberdemocracy, and making legislative information available. House Resolution 5 pushes the legislature to make material available online," said Bortnick.
She also mentioned Congresss interest in examining Web policies and long-term access issues. "The Internet is a significant focal point. Growth is occurring faster than policy can keep up, but Congress is trying to develop rules of the road," said Bortnick. She said the important debates will revolve around encryption, intellectual property, international policy questions, and database security.
Since Congress also oversees FCC implementation of the Telecommunications Act, which provide discounts on telecommunications services to schools, libraries, and medical facilities, Bortnick felt discussions about education and the role of technology in schools will remain on the agenda.
Bortnick then reviewed the recent GAO report on high-risk areas in the government, including information resources management. Finally, she reported that legislators are discussing a variety of computer security and privacy issues, including accessibility of welfare, health, insurance, and medical records.
The second guest speaker, Glenn Schlarman, Policy Analyst for Information Policy and Technology, OMB, spoke to the days presentations, highlighting a few issues that caught his attention. Schlarman thought it is a good idea to get to know the various Chief Information Officers (CIO) and to "connect the dots," of getting the agencys and the librarys missions aligned.
He also mentioned that among his top information concerns were the Information Technology Management Reform Act, CIOs, privacy, FOIA, paperwork reduction, records management, and federal depository libraries. He urged all FLICC members to keep an eye on these policy issues.
He went on to discuss what he calls the "productivity paradox." "After many years and much money having been spent on automation, national and government productivity has not improved significantly. One reason--insufficient planning of information architecture," said Schlarman. As a result, the OMB has set evaluation standards:
He also reviewed new OMB Web site principles:
Both speakers emphasized the need for federal libraries and information centers to keep abreast of all of these policy areas, as they will have an impact on the way librarians do business. For more information on any of these issues, please call FLICC at (202) 707-4800.
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The FLICC Newsletter is published by the Federal Library and Information Center Committee. Suggestions of areas for Federal Library and Information Center Committee attention or items appropriate for inclusion in the FLICC Newsletter should be sent to:
FLICC Executive Director's Office
Phone: (202) 707-4800
Fax: (202) 707-4818
FEDLINK Fiscal Operations
Phone: (202) 707-4900
Fax: (202) 707-4999
Susan M. Tarr
The Federal Library and Information Center Committee was established in 1965 (as the Federal Library Committee) by the Library of Congress and the Bureau of the Budget for the purpose of concentrating the intellectual resources present in the federal library and related information community. Its goals are:
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