Technology Column

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Sounding at times like a pitchman for a telecommunciations company, the Clinton Administration has outlined its role in developing the "electronic superhighway'' that it says is essential to the nation's economic competitiveness.

"Imagine that you had a device that combined a telephone, a TV, a camcorder, and a personal computer ...'' begins its policy statement, entitled "The National Information Infrastructure: Agenda for Action.''

The slim document, developed by the Administration's Information Infrastructure Task Force, was released at a White House ceremony last week.

It outlines the benefits of building a national electronic network linking homes, schools, hospitals, and other public institutions.

It also lays out the policies it believes are needed to encourage the system's widespread use.

Among the benefits of such a network, it states, is that the "best schools, teachers, and courses would be available to all students, without regard to geography, distance, resources, or disability.''

But the document also concedes what many technology savvy educators take for granted--that "private-sector firms are already developing and deploying that infrastructure today'' without federal help.

Still, the task force argues that the federal government has an important role to play by insuring equitable access to the network and policing against misuse of information.

One issue likely to concern computer-using educators and students, for example, is the task force's recommendation that the government strengthen domestic copyright laws "to prevent piracy and to protect the integrity of intellectual property.''

Further, the policy statement argues that the government will have a vital role in insuring "universal access'' to the system as it develops.

Although the report contains a section on educational applications of telecommunciations, it offers no concrete proposals for linking the vast and technologically diverse public school system to the network.

It does, however, cite the Texas Education Network, a state-supported system that connects 25,000 educators, as one successful example of bringing the power of telecommunications into the K-12 classroom.

A joint project of the Texas Education Agency and the University of Texas system, TENET makes the resources of the Internet, an international "network of networks,'' available to any teacher in the state for a nominal fee. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1993.)

Vol. 13, Issue 03

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