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National Information Infrastructure

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Introduction Edit

In September 1993, the Clinton Administration announced an initiative to promote the development of a National Information Infrastructure (NII):

that would create a seamless web of communications networks, computers, databases, and consumer electronics that will put vast amounts of information at users' fingertips. . . . [That] can help unleash an information revolution that will change forever the way people live, work, and interact with each other.[1]

The guiding principles for creating the NII included:

  1. promotion of private sector investment;
  2. extension of universal service at affordable prices;
  3. promotion of technological innovations and new applications;
  4. promotion of interactive, user-driven operation of the NII;
  5. ensuring information security and network reliability;
  6. improving the management of the radio frequency spectrum;
  7. protection of intellectual property;
  8. coordination within government agencies and with other countries; and
  9. providing access to government information and improving government procurement.

Background Edit

The NII may be viewed three ways: as a policy for national information infrastructure development; as federal programs to enhance and support this development; and a wide range of applications which demonstrate the tangible uses and benefits of the technologies. The policy has been articulated in a series of NII reports; the program is supported through major government R&D and grant efforts; the applications focus on a variety of applications in schools, libraries, hospitals, government, and businesses.[2]

The concept of a National Information Infrastructure originally focused on the development of a national computer network, the NREN, that the federal government played a key role in financing and developing. The idea of the information infrastructure broadened, however, as telephone and cable companies — driven by advances in fiber optics, digital signal processing, and data compression — began to promote their ability to provide a more diverse range of services using their networks.

To make the most of the existing information and telecommunication infrastructure, and to bring the benefits of advanced telecommunications, information, and entertainment services to all U.S. consumers and businesses, government policymakers formally advanced the idea of the NII. In September 1993, the Clinton Administration released its The National Information Infrastructure: Agenda for Action.[3] That report established, in broad outline, goals for the development of telecommunications and information resources in the United States, and identified a concept of how the U.S. communications and information infrastructure should evolve.

The purpose of the NII, as described by the Clinton Administration, was to enable all Americans to access the information they need; when they want it, where they want it — at an affordable price.[4] To serve this purpose, the Administration stated that many different technologies and systems would be used where appropriate.[5] In fact, most analysts thought of the NII not as a single system, but as a “system of systems” or “network of networks” that would carry voice, data, and video communications to homes, businesses, schools — to people wherever they were.

To bring the NII into being, the Administration identified five overarching policy guidelines to serve as the framework for developing not only wireline NII services, but wireless systems and applications as well.

1. Competition was seen as the engine that would drive private sector investment in the NII, allowing companies to compete on fair and equal terms, while stimulating efficiency and innovation. Competition was also believed to lower costs for consumers, increase choices and diversity in information sources and entertainment, and protect quality and reliability.
2. A commitment to universal service sought to ensure that NII services would be available to all who want them, regardless of income, location, or ethnicity. This commitment had been the foundation of the telephone system for more than 90 years; as a result, almost everyone in the country was able to have a telephone.
3. Private investment would be the source of almost all funding for the NII; the government would not build or operate the systems that comprise the NII. Government agencies, however, would operate publicly accessible databases and their own telecommunications and information networks.
4. Open access meant the networks that carried the information and entertainment would be open to all users — distributors of programming as well as residential and business consumers.
5. Flexible government regulation was recognized as vital to promoting the goals outlined above. Regulations would seek to promote fair competition and private investment in rapidly changing technology and market conditions; and also protect consumers’ interests by ensuring low-cost services, high reliability, and personal privacy and security.

Office of Technology Assessment Definition Edit

The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) adopted a broad definition of the National Information Infrastructure:

It includes all the systems and applications necessary for the public to communicate with whomever they want and access the information they desire. The NII will be one-way and two-way, point-to-point and broadcast, and narrowband and broadband. It will be an amalgam of existing systems and services and completely new technologies and applications, Different parts of the NII will serve different functions depending on technology and need, and some systems may serve a multitude of needs, The NII will include satellite systems, fiber optic cable, terrestrial radio systems, broadcasting, and the telephone and cable television networks, among others.

What will the NII not be? Despite the singular way in which the term is used — the "NII" is not, and will not be, one “thing, ” Rather, it will be more accurate to think of the Nil as a unifying concept or overarching idea that brings together all the different systems, technologies, and applications that are necessary for people to communicate, access information, and be entertained. Just as the transportation infrastructure of this country is more than just the interstate highway system — it consists of roads, railroads, aircraft, passenger cars, trucks, and ships — so, too, will the NII consist of more than just an "information superhighway." It will also include all the different, lower speed "on and off ramps" — the many local connections that provide access to the network.

Nor will the NII be, as some have suggested, a huge collection of completely interconnected networks capable of transmitting interactive voice, data, and video among all businesses and citizens. Rather, the NII will be a collection of many different kinds of systems. Some general-purpose systems may indeed be capable of carrying two-way, high-bandwidth, multimedia communications, but many other systems will carry only certain kinds of information (voice/data, but not video) or will carry it only one-way (broadcasters).

In addition, not all of these different subsystems will be completely or directly interconnected. Rather, the interconnections will be based on practical and/or economic considerations. It may not make sense, for example, to connect a phone system to a television broadcast station. The existing public switched telephone network may serve as a “core” network that serves as a common point of interconnection for many smaller networks, Finally, the NII will not evolve out of the Internet — the name given to a worldwide network of interconnected computers. The Internet will be only one of the many parts comprising the larger concept that is the NII.[6]

Military Edit

NII is the nationwide interconnection of communications networks, computers, databases, and consumer electronics that make vast amounts of information available to users. The national information infrastructure encompasses a wide range of equipment, including cameras, scanners, keyboards, facsimile machines, computers, switches, compact disks, video and audiotape, cable, wire, satellites, fiber-optic transmission lines, networks of all types, televisions, monitors, printers, and much more. The friendly and adversary personnel who make decisions and handle the transmitted information constitute a critical component of the national information infrastructure.[7]

The NII is similar in nature and purpose to the GII but relates in scope only to a national information environment, which includes all government and civilian information infrastructures.[8]


  1. The National Information Infrastructure: Agenda for Action, 58 Fed. Reg. 49,025 (Sept. 21, 1993).
  2. The National Information Infrastructure: The Federal Role.
  3. Id.
  4. See, e.g., comments of Mike Nelson, Office of Science and Technology Policy, at the Workshop on Advanced Digital Video in the National Information Infrastructure (Georgetown Univ., Washington, D.C., May 10-11, 1994).
  5. As explained in the Agenda for Action, the NII was really more than just an interconnected series of telecommunications or computer networks. It would encompass: l) a wide and ever-expanding range of equipment; 2) the information itself, which may be in the form of video programming, scientific or business databases, images, sound recordings, library archives, and other media; 3) applications and software that allow users to access, manipulate, organize and digest [information]; 4) the network standards and transmission codes that facilitate interconnection and interoperation between network; and 5) the people — largely in the private sector — who create the information, develop applications and services, construct facilities, and train others to tap its potential. Agenda for Action, at 5-6.
  6. Office of Technology Assessment, Wireless Technologies and the National Information Infrastructure 10 (Sept. 1995).
  7. Joint Chiefs of Staff, "Joint Doctrine for Information Operations" (Joint Pub. 3-13), at GL-7 and GL-8 (Oct. 9, 1998) (full-text).
  8. Id. at I-14.

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