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EFFector - Volume 5, Issue 11 - NREN Applications Bill Update

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EFFector Online Volume 5 No. 11       6/25/1993       editors@eff.org
A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation   ISSN 1062-9424

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                        In this issue:
             EFF Is Moving
             NREN Applications Bill Update
             Interval Research Conference on Online Communities
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EFF Is Moving
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EFF has outgrown our current office space.  On July 2, we will be taking
over an entire floor of an historic building in downtown Washington, DC. 
Please note our new address and telephone numbers beginning July 2:

     Electronic Frontier Foundation
     1001 G Street, N.W.
     Suite 950 East
     Washington, DC  20001
     202/347-5400 voice
     202/393-5509 fax

Our e-mail address will remain the same, eff@eff.org.

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NREN Applications Bill Update
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by Andrew Blau

In an earlier issue of EFFector (5.07), we described legislation introduced
by Congressman Rick Boucher to stimulate Internet applications in health
care, education, libraries, and for access to government information.  On
June 17, the bill, H.R. 1757, was marked-up by the Science Subcommittee,
which Mr. Boucher chairs.  ("Mark up" is the process by which a committee
or subcommittee reviews a bill, adds amendments, and if passed, sends it on
to the next stage in the legislative process.)

The bill that emerged reflects a number of important changes to the
original H.R. 1757.  Some of these changes reflect the Clinton
Administration's input, others come from efforts to accomodate the
Republican members of the Subcommittee, while still others reflect concerns
of groups that would be affected by the legislation.

                -------------------------------------
                 Major changes to HR 1757 as marked up
                 -------------------------------------

New name
--------

The bill had originally been called the High Performance Computing and High
Speed Networking Applications Act of 1993.  Its new name is the National
Information Infrastructure Act of 1993.

Emphasis on accessibility
-------------------------

H.R. 1757 had originally specified that applications developed under this
program should be accessible by all persons in the United States.  The new
version expands on that by specifying throughout the bill's many provisions
that applications must be accessible to people with disabilities; that
training programs must include training for people with disabilities; and
that public access points for networked information should include centers
for people with disabilities.

Connections program to support *services,* not facilities
---------------------------------------------------------

The connections program originally called for the creation of local
networks connecting schools, libraries, and state and local governments. 
Now, the bill calls for the development of network services in local
communities.  The language clarifies that the money is to support the
purchase of network services, not to build new facilities.  Museums were
also added to the list of local institutions under this program.  The
length of the Connections Program was cut from 5 years to 3 years (at which
time it is likely to be reviewed).

Process for restricting use of test-bed networks modified 
---------------------------------------------------------

One of H.R. 1757's most controversial provisions had required that
government supported test-bed networks could not be used for services that
could be "provided satisfactorily" by commercial networks 18 months after
the bill is enacted.  Educators, the research community, librarians and
others were concerned by the rigid timeline and feared that users would be
restricted from using the government supported NSFNet without any adequate
alternative, or at substantially higher costs.  The new provisions replace
the fixed timeline with guidelines for determining when the cutover may
happen and a process for determining it.

1)  The bill outlines conditions by which "satisfactory availability" is to
be determined:  the determination "shall include consideration of
geographic access to and affordability of service, and timeliness and
technical performance standards in providing services."  This responds to
the concern that there be well-known standards "available" that take into
consideration various conditions faced by users across the country.

2)  The bill calls for a study to explore the issue and decide when
commercial services are satisfactorily available, subject to the results of
the study.  The study is to be done by the Director of the Office of
Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in consultation with Federal agencies
and departments supporting test bed networks.  The study is due 6 months
after the date of enactment of the legislation.  This abandons the fixed,
18-month timeline and asks OSTP to make the determination according to the
specified conditions.

3)  The bill also includes an "escape" clause if conditions change.  If the
OSTP report announces a date for the cutover, but "for technical reasons"
the cutover cannot be imposed on that date, the OSTP Director has the
option of going back to Congress with a new date.

As a related matter, the bill includes renewed emphasis on using
commercially available network services whenever possible, "to minimize
Federal investment in network hardware and software."

Scope of Education section expanded
-----------------------------------

H.R. 1757 originally specified primary, secondary, and higher education as
the beneficiaries of the education section.  That has been broadened to
include educational institutions at all levels, which adds pre-school or
early childhood education and vocational/technical schools.

The new provisions also specify the inclusion of the Department of
Education in the program.

Advisory Committee expanded; Public input process specified
-----------------------------------------------------------

The original H.R. 1757 modified the High Performance Computing Advisory
Committee created by the High Performance Act of 1991 to expand its
membership.  The new provisions take additional steps to expand the
committee to include library representatives, the computer hardware and
computer software industries, and the publishing industry.

The new provisions also require that the Advisory Committee meet at least
once a year to take oral and written testimony from the public on progress
in implementing the network and applications plan, summarize the public
input, and report it to OSTP Director.

Lastly, the bill first specified that Advisory Committee members were to be
appointed by the President.  The new provisions specify that the OSTP
Director is to appoint them.

New attention to copyright issues
---------------------------------

The bill as amended now includes greater attention to the copyright issues
that electronic networks create.  Specifically, the bill calls for general
research to facilitate the management and protection of copyrighted
information accessed via the Internet, and a means to identify
electronically copyrighted works and electronically indicating whether
permission to reproduce it has been granted.

Money:  less of it and none of it is "new"
-----------------------------------------

In an effort to keep this package within the parameters of the
Administration's budget request, and in light of the budget deficit and the
struggles to pass a budget package, the amount of money authorized in each
section has been cut.  The overall total was reduced from $1.55 billion
over five years to $1.005 billion over that period.

A large portion of that total comes from the removal of the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) from the program. 
NTIA is not under the Science Subcommittee's jurisdiction, and will be
reauthorized by the committee that does have jurisdiction, the Energy and
Commerce Committee, which is expected to authorize money for similar
purposes.

The bill now also clarifies that all money authorized in it is from money
already authorized for each agency.  These provisions were added to clarify
that the bill was not seeking to add over a billion dollars to the federal
budget for these programs, but was authorizing agencies to spend the money
they have on these applications.

Miscellaneous
-------------

The bill as reported out of the Subcommittee also calls for:

  o  an emphasis on the development of "interconnected and interoperable
information systems" rather than proprietary or stand-alone systems;

  o  research into "the long-range social and ethical implications of
applications of high-speed networking and high-performance computing"; and

  o  new applications in clinical medicine, including drug development,
technologies to monitor, evaluate and treat patients in nonclinical
settings, and modeling of sociological populations affected
disproportionately by selected diseases or disorders.

Finally, H.R. 1757 no longer includes the section that calls for a
coordinator for the networking and applications program nor a section
specifying an Associate Director at OSTP to oversee Federal efforts to
disseminate scientific and technical information.

The bill is now scheduled to come before the full Science, Space and
Technology Committee on June 30 for a vote.  It is not expected that
additional major revisions will be made, but changes are always possible. 
Following the full Committee markup, the bill will be ready for
consideration by the full House of Representatives once the Committee
issues its report.  No date for House consideration has been set.

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Interval Research Conference on Online Communities
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The Interval Research Mini-Conference on Online Community
May 17-18, Palo Alto
attended and reported on by Cliff Figallo

This past Monday and Tuesday, I attended the "FIRST EVER INTERVAL GATHERING
ON ONLINE COMMUNITIES," hosted by Interval Research in Palo Alto.  It was
described as "a small meeting of professionals and advanced students to
explore the nature and dynamics of on-line communities -- including
informal presentations and panels, show and tell, rants and ravings, and
hands-on net surfing orchestrated by the inimitable Jonathan Steuer, host
of Stanford's famous net.jams!"  The list of topics covered at the meeting
included:

        o MUDs and MOOs
        o the world of online gaming
        o virtual identity and gender
        o "emergent" vs. "planned" communities
        o multimedia vs. text
        o online services
        o professional/work communities
        o political and social issues - the net of the future

The list of communities invited included:

America Online, CPSR, EFF, Electronic Cafe, Fidonet, Habitat, Kidsphere,
LambdaMOO, MediaMOO, Seniornet, Sierra Network, Smart Valley, and the WELL.

The purpose of the gathering, as expressed to me by Brenda Laurel and Lee
Felsenstein, the Interval employees who planned the mini-con, was to
demonstrate the existence and meaning of online community to those
higher-ups at Interval who didn't yet "get it."

John Coate, Marc Smith and I followed Lee Felsenstein's opening remarks on
the importance of networked communities as agents of social change.  John
Coate and I had worked together at the WELL and Marc Smith wrote his
master's dissertation, "The Logic of the Virtual Commons" about the WELL. 
I described the many variables that contributed to the formation of the
WELL's online sense of community including, the policy of users being
responsible for the words they post, the communal background of its
managers, the connection with Whole Earth, the no-anonymity policy, the
inclusion of users in developing the system, the distribution of
responsibility among the users, and the personal and technical challenges
that the population faced and overcame through the WELL's formative years. 
The concept of "common goods" was discussed as a centerpiece of community;
some value that most participants could agree on that is gained by taking
part in the online scene.  This "common good," I think, can also be a
commonly perceived threat, as from government or corporations.  Most often,
though, it is the knowledge and personal resource of the group present
online, providing information and support at the convenience of the users.

Gaming populations are present on the Sierra Network where, rather than
through conferencing or messaging software, interactive games are the
meeting places, with e-mail filling the need for extended communication. 
Although little in the way of "serious" group discussion happens on Sierra,
a community of sorts does, in fact, exist.  Sierra Net has over 20,000
subscribers.  They have, since the meeting, signed on with Prodigy to
collaborate somehow.

Habitat is a semi-animated interactive system where each participant is
represented online by a graphic figure of a human body on which a head,
chosen from a gallery of heads, can be attached.  Dialog takes place
through cartoon-like "balloons" above the characters' heads.  Habitat is
popular in Japan, and its two American developers, Chip Morningstar and
Randy Farmer, are reviving Habitat in the U.S. (it formerly ran only on
Commodore 64 machines), while also developing a
pay-or-barter-for-information system called AMIX in California (initially
funded by AutoDesk) and working on a conferencing interface for a
wide-reaching information structure like the Internet.  They claim to have
a "very large corporation" interested in funding their idea.

MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) and MOOs (MUD-Object-Oriented) are structured
and user-modifiable online environments that allow users to not only
interact with each other, but to do role-playing, build and furnish living
areas and interaction areas, and extend and create the interactive "space"
and the rules for using that space.  Some MUDS and MOOs are being used to
teach children and, after giving the children the ability to create on
their own, to study how children work in an unencumbered environment.  Amy
Bruckman of MIT's Media Lab and Pavel Curtis of Xerox PARC described their
systems and experiments.

Some examples of specially-designed online communities were described by
participants.  Anna Couey, Director of Arts Wire, talked about the
reluctance of artists to move from systems of regional or cultural
preference to another system where a central Arts Forum was established. 
Loyalties run strong online.  Seth Fiery described the Smart Valley project
for installing a broadband network throughout Silicon Valley as a prototype
for the NII.  Even on this local scale, there are more questions about
interoperability than answers.  Fran Middleton talked about SeniorNet and
how, even having their system located on America Online, there were many
complaints about difficulty using the system and high expense.  Dave Hughes
gave his list of ingredients for grassroots networked systems:
     1) Rooted in real cultures
     2) Universal grassroots access
     3) Public technical standards
     4) Start farthest from centers of power (rural, remote, foreign)
     5) Always evolving (technically, connectively, individual/group/
        community skills) to higher orders
     6) End users do not just connect, they create
     7) Sysop's role is to enable and empower

Patricia Seybold of Seybold Publishing spoke about her efforts to get
corporate users to participate in networks using Lotus Notes.  She is
having to "be patient," waiting for them to actively use these systems.

Tom Jennings, inventor of Fidonet, described the self-governing nature and
evolution of the Fidonet and how node sysops had developed sanctioning
norms and techniques.  Tom's original idea took off so fast that the
software tables he originally designed to count the nodes overflowed after
just one year of distribution.  Fido now generates its own regular
"newsletter" that reports on the operation of this anarchic networked
community of communities.  It is a poor (non-academic or corporate)
person's Internet, operating with none of the national or international
regulatory red tape of the Internet.  Mark Graham, president of Pandora
Systems, talked about the growth in public access to the Internet, the need
for better tools for access and data searching (which his company develops)
and the growing interconnectivity with foreign countries.  Pandora was
instrumental in installing the first commercial Internet site in the former
Soviet Union.  Bob Carlitz is a physicist who has been involved in
networking children through the Internet via KidSphere.  He has seen how
children can form their own communities online and learn at the same time
on a global scale.  Kathy Ryan of America Online gave a description of the
service and how they have handled its rapid growth and customer support,
specifically how they have created systems for gathering feedback from
their users on system design and features.  They are struggling with the
question of opening their system into the Internet beyond just having an
e-mail gateway.

Finally, Kit Galloway and Sherry Rabinowitz demonstrated some video clips
from their almost 20 years of involvement with the Electronic Cafe, which
uses low-cost to sophisticated video equipment to encourage creativity and
communication between different communities and cultures.  In some cases,
they have set up satellite video feeds between geographically-distant
groups holding simultaneous events.  In other cases, they have linked local
culturally-disparate groups in different neighborhoods in the same town. 
No keyboarding necessary; anyone can hold the camera.

The purpose of the meeting was addressed mostly in discussion between and
following presentations as the differences and commonalities between many
concepts and models of community were explored.  It was evident that
sophistication of technology was not the determining factor, but more that
freedom and openness and encouragement of creativity seemed to be the
critical keys to nurturing community.  Greater access will allow more
people to connect, and basing systems around some kind of "commons" may
stimulate involvement and loyalty.   The fragility of trust online is
something that must be recognized, and privacy concerns are high on the
list of values.  Creating and enforcing community standards, even where a
minority may claim that free speech is being infringed upon, was also seen
as a contributor to community.  Where a group needs to feel secure in
giving free rein to their children online, rights to use strong language or
provide pornographic files may be, appropriately, abridged in the interest
of community.

Discussion of the privacy rights of children were examined in the case of
Amy Bruckman's desire to study and document children's behaviors online in
MOO environments without the children's knowledge.  Would parental
permission be sufficient or should the children know they are being
studied?

The presence of children online, in general, presents many difficult
ethical dilemmas which may have, at least, partial technical solutions.

The looming spectre of collusion between large cable companies and telcos,
leading to domination of electronic media by mostly one-way communications
and entertainment at the expense of the interactive and user-created
activities necessary to foster community, was recognized as a threat that
could best be countered by proactive development of more interactive
communities of all types in the near future.  I explained EFF's positions
on several issues of concern to the attendees.  EFF's existence as a
watchdog over policy and regulation as well as a protector of civil
liberties was regarded as a comforting security umbrella and a real
necessity if the practice of online community is to expand and thrive.

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