5562 Victoria Lane
Livermore, CA 94550 USA
Innovative or improved ways of doing things; Technology transfer; Leverage of public funding; Partnerships between public and private sector
Story Site (if other than location listed above):
Fictional Location (Anywhere)
My story begins back in early 1993. The fledgling computer network industry was about to come into full bloom. American society had already discovered the computer and was beginning to awaken to the advantages of computer networks that could tie computers together. Everything was in readiness for a new dawning in American technology.
Coincidentally, a new administration took over the White House, intent on applying all of the resources of the country towards making the United States a better place. Recognizing the trend towards computer networks, the administration proposed the creation of a National Information Infrastructure for the benefit of all Americans.
This plan was widely embraced by the computer industry. Many were excited by the idea of getting free network services; others would be able to receive large government grants for various parts of the project; some just thought it would be cool. One group even collected stories illustrating the advantages of computer networks, as if proving that networks were good was a sufficient argument to prove that the government should fund their construction and, consequently, be given control of them.
The overwhelming support of the proposal insured its quick adoption. Funding was approved, taxes raised, and the work begun. Several years later, some of The Network was in place, although at a cost several times larger than the original estimates, quite a bit late, and not quite as large as expected.
Unfortunately, The Network competed directly with several private national networks. With the support of the government, it easily put them out of business. The companies that survived by getting contracts for The Network found themselves handcuffed by government regulations. Those regulations ironically intended to encourage the growth of The Network — made innovation impossible. The Network itself was stuck with early 1990’s technology. The same regulations doomed several small companies that attempted to promote more advanced networking technologies.
In the end, as has happened many times before and since, the government involvement stagnated the industry. Despite many contemporary examples in the early 1990’s of large companies unable to adapt quickly enough in the fast paced computer industry, the National Information Infrastructure movement had managed to place the most critical component for the growth of the U.S. computer industry in the hands of the largest and least agile organization ever to appear on the face of the earth: the United States Government. The result was predictable: the U.S. computer industry was almost completely wiped out.
Supporters of the plan had compared it to the national telephone system, but they had forgotten that the telephone system was set up before the federal government dominated American society. They compared it to the national highway system, overlooking relative maturity of road construction technology. They pointed to the success of the Internet, not realizing that the anarchy that made the Internet successful would be crushed under the focused attention of the federal government.
Admittedly, the supporters could have been right. If the government hadn’t been quite so powerful, if the people had been a little more cautious about using the government as the only solution to all problems, if the industry hadn’t been quite so enthusiastic about getting government subsidies — if any of these conditions hadn’t been met, then maybe the National Information Infrastructure would have done all they said it would. In retrospect, though, it wasn’t worth the risk.
Especially now that the monitoring equipment has been installed to scan all network traffic for “criminal intentions”, whatever that — TRANSMISSION ABORTED BY NETWORK —HOST NO LONGER AVAILABLE