Al Gore: Remarks on the Digital Revolution (1994)                                  

              . . . I join you to outline not only this Administration's vision of the National Information Infrastructure but our proposals for creating it.

            Last month in Washington, I set forth some of the principles behind our vision. Today I'll talk about the legislative package necessary to ensure the creation of that national infrastructure in a manner which will connect and empower the citizens of this country through broadband, interactive communication.

            We've all become used to stumbling over clicheZ˙s in our efforts to describe the enormity of change now underway and the incredible speed with which it is taking place.  Often we call it a revolution -- the digital revolution. . . .

            But this revolution is based on traditions that go far back in our history.

            Since the transcontinental telegraph that transmitted Abraham Lincoln's election victory to California in real time, our ability to communicate electronically has informed and shaped America.

            It was only a year before that election that the Pony Express was the talk of the nation, able to send a message cross country in seven days.  The next year, it was out of business.

            Today's technology has made possible a global community united by instantaneous information and analysis.  Protesters at the Berlin Wall communicated with their followers through CNN news broadcasts.  The fax machine connected us with demonstrators at Tiananmen Square.

            So it's worth remembering that while we talk about this digital revolution as if it's about to happen, in many places it's already underway. . . .

            Our new ways of communicating will entertain as well as inform. More importantly, they will educate, promote democracy, and save lives. And in the process they will also create a lot of new jobs.  In fact, they're already doing it.

            The impact on America's businesses will not be limited just to those who are in the information business, either.  Virtually every business will find it possible to use these new tools to become more competitive.  And by taking the lead in quickly employing these new information technologies, America's businesses will gain enormous advantages in the worldwide marketplace.  And that is important because if America is to prosper, we must be able to manufacture goods within our borders and sell them not just in Tennessee but Tokyo -- not just in Los Angeles but Latin America. . . .

            By now, we are becoming familiar with the ability of the new communications technologies to transcend international boundaries and bring our world closer together.  But many of you are now in the process of transcending other old boundaries -- the boundary lines which have long defined different sectors of the information industry.  The speed with which these boundaries are eroding is quite dramatic.

             I'm reminded of an idea of Stephen Hawking, the British physicist. Hawking has Lou Gehrig's disease.  But thanks to information technology he can still communicate not only to his students and colleagues but to millions around the world.  Incidentally, I read the other day that his voice box has an American accent -- because it was developed here in California.

            Anyway, in that American accent, Hawking has speculated about a distant future when the universe stops expanding and begins to contract. Eventually, all matter comes colliding together in a "Big Crunch," which scientists say could then be followed by another "Big Bang" -- a universe expanding outward once again.

            Our current information industries -- cable, local telephone, long distance telephone, television, film, computers, and others -- seem headed for a Big Crunch/Big Bang of their own.  The space between these diverse functions is rapidly shrinking -- between computers and televisions, for example, or interactive communication and video.

              But after the next Big Bang, in the ensuing expansion of the information business, the new marketplace will no longer be divided along current sectoral lines.  There may not be cable companies or phone companies or computer companies, as such.  Everyone will be in the bit business. The functions provided will define the marketplace.  There will be information conduits, information providers, information appliances and information consumers.

            That's the future.  It's easy to see where we need to go. It's hard to see how to get there.  When faced with the enormity and complexity of the transition some retreat to the view best enunciated by Yogi Berra when he said:  "What we have here is an insurmountable opportunity." . . .

            How can government ensure that the information marketplace emerging on the other side of the Big Crunch will permit everyone to be able to compete with everyone else for the opportunity to provide any service to all willing customers?  How can we ensure that this new marketplace reaches the entire nation?  How can we ensure that it fulfills the enormous promise of education, economic growth and job creation?

            Today I will provide the Administration's answers to those questions.  But before I do let me state my firm belief that legislative and regulatory action alone will not get us where we need to be.  This Administration argued in our National Performance Review last year, that government often acts best when it sets clear goals, acts as a catalyst for the national teamwork required to achieve them, then lets the private and non-profit sector, move the ball downfield. . . .

              Let me be clear.  I challenge you, the people in this room, to connect all of our classrooms, all of our libraries, and all of our hospitals and clinics by the year 2000.  We must do this to realize the full potential of information to educate, to save lives, provide access to health care and lower medical costs.

            Our nation can and must meet this challenge. The best way to do so is by working together.  Just as communications industries are moving to the unified information marketplace of the future, so must we move from the traditional adversarial relationship between business and government to a more productive relationship based on consensus.  We must build a new model of public-private cooperation that, if properly pursued, can obviate many governmental mandates.

            Many of you have our White Paper today, outlining the bill in detail.  If you didn't get your copy, it's available on the Internet, right now. . . .

            We begin with two of our basic principles -- the need for private investment and fair competition.  The nation needs private investment to complete the construction of the National Information Infrastructure. And competition is the single most critical means of encouraging that private investment.

            I referred earlier to the use of the telegraph in 1860, linking the nation together.  Congress funded Samuel Morse's first demonstration of the telegraph in 1844.  Morse then suggested that a national system be built with federal funding.  But Congress said no, that private investment should build the information infrastructure.  And that's what happened -- to the great and continuing competitive advantage of this country. . . .

            There was a Washington Post headline last month: "Will the `Information Superhighway' Detour the Poor?"

              Not if I have anything to do about it.  After all, governmental action to ensure universal service has been part of American history since the days of Ben Franklin's Post Office.  We will have in our legislative package a strong mandate to ensure universal service in the future -- and I want to explain why.

            We have become an information-rich society.  Almost 100% of households have radio and television, and about 94% have telephone service.  Three-quarters of households contain a VCR, about 60% have cable, and roughly 30% of households have personal computers.

            As the information infrastructure expands in breadth and depth, so too will our understanding of the services that are deemed essential. This is not a matter of guaranteeing the right to play video-games.  It is a matter of guaranteeing access to essential services.

            We cannot tolerate -- nor in the long run can this nation afford -- a society in which some children become fully educated and others do not; in which some adults have access to training and lifetime education, and others do not. . . .

            Our economic future will depend, in a real sense, on your ability to grasp opportunity and turn it into concrete achievement. . . .

            As we enter this new millennium, we are learning a new language. It will be the lingua franca of the new age. It is made up of ones and zeros and bits and bytes. . . .

            We meet today on common ground, not to predict the future but to make firm the arrangements for its arrival. Let us master and develop this new language together.

Questions: 

1.  How does Gore relate the achievements of the past to those of the future? 

2.  What is the role of private enterprise, and of government, in the Digital Revolution? 

3.  What elements in society does Gore use to appeal to his listeners?