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

Rob Kling
Department of Information & Computer Science
University of California -- Irvine
Irvine, CA 92717, USA
kling@ics.uci.edu || 714-856-5955

"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 an 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 and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Dr. Kling also holds professorial appointments in the Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations and the Graduate School of Management at UCI. Since the early 1970s he has studied the social opportunities and dilemmas of computerization for managers, professionals, workers, and the public.

Dr. Kling's research focuses on the social and organizational dimensions of computer technologies. He has conducted studies in numerous kinds of organizations, including local governments, insurance companies, pharmaceutical firms, and hi-tech manufacturing firms. He has written about the value conflicts implicit in and social consequences of computerization which directly effects the public.

Dr. Kling is co-author of Computers and Politics: High Technology in American Local Governments published by the Columbia University Press which examined how computerization reinforces the power of already powerful groups. He is co-editor of two recent books. PostSuburban California: The Transformation of Postwar Orange County (University of California Press, 1990) examines the way that Orange County California is organized in a new social form beyond the traditional city and suburb, one that is spatially decentralized, functionally specialized, and mixes a rich array of residences, commerce, industry, services, government and the arts. Computerization and Controversy: Value Conflict & Social Choices (Academic Press, 1991) examines the social controversies about computerization in organizations and social life, regarding productivity, worklife, personal privacy, risks of computer systems, and computer ethics. In addition, he has published over 75 theoretical and empirical articles about the social aspects of computerization.