Friday Noon Lecture Series, Spring 1994
Impact of New Information Resources: Multimedia and Networks

Who's Gonna Get It?:
The Meanings and Conditions of Universal Access to Computer Networks Within the National Information Infrastructures

Rob Kling
Professor of Information & Computer Science, UC Irvine

"The NII" is an exciting buzzword for a complex amalgam of telecommunications networks which provide telephone, cable TV, and computerized-data networks. The Clinton/Gore conception of NII assumes the convergence of media since their "Agendas for Action" seamlessly blend services which are now distinct because of their technological characteristics, their regulatory environments, key stakeholders, market structures, and their social properties (including usage by the public). Computer nets add the sizzle to telecommunications infrastructures that would otherwise be composed of telephone and cable TV. Vice President Al Gore has argued that "the Internet," with its diverse service mix and bilateral communications, will serve as a model for a new integrated NII. In addition, the Clinton/Gore administration and numerous public interest groups have argued that "universal service" will be a key feature of the NII. Unfortunately, the meanings of "universal service," and the social and economic conditions for supporting universal service have not received effective attention in the public NII policy discussions.

Universal access has been a longstanding policy value for telephone access and use in the U.S. In practice, the cost of stringing phone lines to a city or town, and from there to homes and workplaces were a substantial fraction of telephone infrastructure costs. The cost of telephone equipment, and the skills to use it, have been relatively affordable when a phone line was brought to a building's wall. Computer-based networks require substantially more expensive "complementary equipment resources," skills, and service fees for people to use them effectively. Assuring "universal access" to the computer nets within the NII requires that many people and groups are able to afford relatively expensive equipment and to possess complex skills. Without effective support , visions of wiring up classrooms, libraries, and homes to an NII can be an expensive policy sham. This talk examined the social and technological preconditions for effective access to computer-based networks within the NII.

Rob Kling is Professor of Information & Computer Sciences at UC Irvine, where he is co-director of UCI's doctoral concentration on Computing, Organizations, Policy and Society. His research focuses on the ways that computerization is a social process with technical elements, how computerization transforms work, and how computerization entails many social choices. Recent books Dr. Kling has co-edited include PostSuburban California: The Transformation of Postwar Orange County and Computerization and Controversy: Value Conflict & Social Choices. He is on the editorial and advisory boards of scholarly and professional journals including Communications of the ACM, Social Science Computer Review, and Information Society.

Friday April 8
145 Dwinelle

co-sponsored by the School of Library and Information Studies and the School of Journalism

Click here for information on where to get a videotaped copy of this lecture.
VIDEO CALL NUMBER = Lis 296A v/c 18
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