February 8, 1996 President Clinton Signs Telecommunications Act at Library of Congress

Library's National Digital Library Program Receives Praise

Contact: Jill Brett (202) 707-2905 | Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217

President Bill Clinton, in a ceremony in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress, today signed into law the Telecommunications Act of 1996. During the ceremony, James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, was acknowledged for the pioneering role the Library is playing as a major content provider on the Internet.

"It is fitting that we mark this moment here in the Library of Congress," said President Clinton. "It is Thomas Jefferson's building. Most of you know Jefferson deeded his books to the Library after our first Library burned in the War of 1812. The volumes that line these walls grew out of Jefferson's legacy. ... Today the information revolution is spreading light -- the light Jefferson spoke about -- all across our land and across the world. It will allow every American child to bring the ideas stored in this reading room into his or her own livingroom."

Vice President Albert Gore, who in 1993 came to the Library to join Dr. Billington in hosting a conference on the Information Superhighway, said, "This legislation will expand and strengthen universal service. .. It allows open access to the pipelines of knowledge."

Also delivering messages were Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.); Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.); Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.); Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.); Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.); and Ron Brown, the secretary of Commerce. Speaker Gingrich acknowledged Dr. Billington as "a leader on a world basis in knitting the world together" through the Library's National Digital Library Program. Speaker Gingrich also praised the Library for its THOMAS on-line legislative system, which he announced to the public at a ceremony at the Library in January 1995.

Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, who is chairman of the National Information Infrastructure Task Force, introduced Dr. Billington as someone who is "bringing the Library of Congress into the Information Age. Through the National Digital Library Program the Library of Congress is creating on-line access to its catalog, its exhibitions and its unique American collections, as well as to congressional information."

The National Digital Library Program aims to digitize and make freely available on the Internet 5 million items by the year 2000 from the Library's incomparable collections of rare materials relating to American history. This public-private initiative is being made possible by congressional appropriations and private funds. The goal is to raise $60 million for the project, with $15 million from Congress and $45 million from the private sector. So far, the Library has received $21 million in gifts and $3 million in appropriations.

The Library's World Wide Web homepage (https://www.loc.gov) already provides tens of thousands of rare items from the collections, including the first two drafts of the Gettysburg Address, Thomas Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and Mathew Brady Civil War photographs. Also on-line are sound recordings, early motion pictures and the Library's electronic card catalog. The Library's electronic services handle more than a million transactions daily.

The full text of the act signed today is available on THOMAS (http://thomas.loc.gov) as are all bills of the current and previous Congress. The Congressional Record and Bill Digest can also be accessed, along with members' electronic mail addresses.

Today's event was historic in two ways: The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first bill to be signed into law at the Library of Congress and the first to be signed in cyberspace. While the president signed the bill on paper, he also "signed" it electronically -- the entire event was available in real time over the Internet using a high-speed, fiber-optic synchronous optical network link.


PR 96-023
ISSN 0731-3527