WATPA: FW: NYTimes - A Universal Library

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From: Norman J. Jacknis (norm@jacknis.com)
Date: Sat Apr 21 2001 - 22:51:30 EDT

In case you didn't see this.


A Universal Library


In the emerging information-based economy, Americans need access to
knowledge and learning across a lifetime. Teaching workers new
technology skills is as important as teaching farmers new
agricultural skills was before the turn of the last century. But
the Internet and digital communications are being largely wasted as
a resource for the kind of broad education the future demands.

 While it might be a stretch to say that we are in danger of
creating a vast digital wasteland, entertainment of marginal
quality dominates commercial attempts on the Internet to reach a
mass audience and, sad to say, the most consistently profitable
sites deliver pornography. Meanwhile, the treasures in our
libraries, schools and museums are locked away for want of money to
make them digitally available to the full American audience.

 In the 18th century, the Northwest Ordinance set aside public land
for primary schools. In the 19th century, Congress granted land to
establish public universities. In the 20th century, the G.I. Bill
profoundly expanded educational opportunities. We need a similar
public investment to realize the potential of digital
communication. Fortunately, there is a public financing source

 Today, among our most valuable and yet little known public assets
are the frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum over which
television and radio are broadcast and communication signals are
sent. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the auctions of
these public assets will raise $28 billion over the next 10 years.
We propose using $18 billion from this windfall to make a digital
gift to the nation: a public trust administered on the model of the
National Science Foundation.

 It is easy to imagine some of what such a trust could make
possible: Online literacy programs connecting adults with a virtual
one-on-one "reading tutor." A digital model of the human body, from
molecular structure to gross anatomy, for students and doctors.
Universal access to nearly all important historical manuscripts,
photographs, art and recordings now held in museums, libraries and
archives. But there is potential for much more that we cannot yet
imagine. It is the nature of technology to flourish when people
with ideas are given time and support to develop them.

 Our idea for a Digital Opportunity Investment Trust already has
backing from many educators, library and science officials, as well
as executives of companies like Microsoft and Novell. Public,
educational uses of the Internet and other digital communications
technologies will not change their commercial vitality, but will
make the online realm even more crucial in American life. We have
the financial resources as a nation to make a sizable investment
now, and Congress should act to make it happen.

Lawrence K. Grossman is former president of NBC News and PBS.
Newton N. Minow is former chairman of the Federal Communications
Commission and PBS.



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