Local governments to join network
In his book Global Paradox, John Naisbitt says, “Telecommunications will provide the infrastructure every industry and every company will need to compete in a truly cosmopolitan marketplace.”
In addition to industry and companies, this cosmopolitan marketplace also includes local governments that need to establish a presence through global interconnectivity.
In an effort to enhance the idea of global interconnectivity, the Republican majority and the Clinton Administration agreed to revamp the Federal Communications Act of 1934 and open all markets to competition during this session of Congress.
The Administration’s proposal is the National Information Infrastructure (NII), a complex system of communications networks, computers and databases that would connect users’ nationwide and globally. Created by the private sector, the NII would be closely connected to federal, state and local governments.
Jack Fields, House telecommunications subcommittee chairman, recently explained what is at stake. “I’m convinced that the people we talked with have tens of billions of dollars parked on the side of the information superhighway waiting for us to pass a piece of legislation to give definition and certainty,” he says. “By passing telecommunications legislation quickly, we’re going to give the Clinton Administration the biggest economic kick it could possibly get.”
The key issue for local governments is whether any of those tens of billions of dollars will end up in their communities. Other issues affecting local governments are whether they will retain control over cable operators through franchises and phone companies through licensing.
There are also questions about what role local governments would play in wireless or domestic satellites, whether control over rights of way would be affected, who would have authority over tower and antenna sites being used for cellular, personal communications services (PCS) or other wireless services and whether local access or universal access would be encouraged. There is also concern that some tax revenues could be lost to national or international companies beaming signals into the market but not based in the market.
Rapid development in the private sector also directly affects local governments. Because of the aggressive period of mergers, acquisitions and consolidations in the telecommunications industry, being aware of the changes in the broadcasting, computer cable and telephone industries will ensure that a community’s needs are being met.
The challenge for Congress is to create a powerful, seamless, easy-to-use network which will, among other things, revitalize education through long-distance learning via telephone, fax, television and computer. Prototypes of long-distance learning programs already exist in some schools, such as Nova Southeastern University, Davie, Fla.
NII will make local governments more responsive to their citizens by offering pertinent services electronically. For instance, health care costs, quality and availability would improve through effective telemedicine, mobile diagnosis and electronic transmission of client bills and records.
Localities interested in participating in the development of NII should create an image of themselves as electronic communities. Local governments should work with the private sector to develop necessary infrastructure, create grassroots efforts to identify and implement a diverse set of applications and pick several focused projects to demonstrate the seriousness of their efforts.