the Digital Divide with an Integrated Vision Initiative
April 29th, 2000 - Chuck
Flink (Feedback Appreciated!)
On April 8th and with updates on the 22nd I posted an article
suggesting an Internet Future that involves the serious integration of
the TV and other electronic entertainment media with the computer and
Internet. As a vision, it's not very revolutionary, having been in
the movies and science fiction nearly as long as these technologies have
existed. What is significant is that we're on the verge of making
this real in our day-to-day lives. And this can have
revolutionary impact on the Information Technology industry and the
In this vision, the distinct concepts of our PC age, e.g.
"computer" and "operating system", become so totally
integrated in the concept of an entertainment appliance that most people
cease to think about them. Much as "engine displacement"
and "drive shaft torque" are pointless details to today's car
buyer (replaced by "performance" if at all) these internal
computer details will cease to be relevant. Everything will have a
chip in it as a matter of course. What will be important in the
customer's mind will be: "What can I do with it?" Only
the hobbyists, academics, engineers and technicians will care about
"clock speeds", "registry keys" and
This is also essentially "not news" until we start
looking at the consequences to our industry and society, and the
many ways in which the vision can be derailed for selfish, narrow-minded
purposes. The potential is for a plateau in the evolution of
Information Technology where it becomes as universal as the telephone,
as commonplace as the TV and as important in the minds of the majority
as the automobile. I've previously drawn the analogy between the
automobile of the 1950's (and the birth of the Interstate highway
system) and the current state of our computer industry (and the
This vision has the potential of creating a new plateau of
equality in our society that no current educational, poverty or
racial policy can achieve. This vision has the potential to close
the Digital Divide, bringing children from the inner-city and the
suburbs to true equal access to an opportunity for an informed,
educated, productive life. This is a societal goal that should
override many an argument over market turf, "traditional
markets" and redefine the concept of competition and market
dominance in our industry. It is a forward looking vision
that we need to work together toward.
Besides vast simplification of the user interface and the indirect
education of the populace on how to use it, the result can well be a
closing of the Digital Divide that we've seen open up between the rich
and poor in our society. It can put the information revolution in
the homes of children who would never have access unless it is
integrated with the entertainment media that their parents consider more
valuable than education.
I've felt so strongly about the potential for this technology that
I've written a couple of letters to.... shutter.... politicians and
lawyers suggesting how they could get what they want while actually helping
society! (I told you I was full of novel thoughts! In
this case I'm not quite sure if this is novel as in "new" or
as in "fiction", but we'll see if the lawyers and politicians
can actually be moved.) Here are copies of the letters for your
consideration. Please feel free to take the themes and write your
own senators, representative and presidential candidate. The first
letter was aimed at the politicians, the second at the DoJ
lawyers. Yes, I know I'm a wide-eyed dreamer to think they would
listen to a positive solution to the Microsoft case, but it is
Spring and with life blooming all around the nation, one does feel hope
for even.... gasp.... lawyers.
I'm semi-retired after 30 years in the computer and communications
R&D (Navy and Bell Labs). I
volunteer occasionally as a tutor at my wife's public school and I'm
shocked at the impact of the "digital divide" on our youth
and fearful of where it will lead society. Here in NC, we've
wasted time, talent and money trying to "wire" schools for
the Internet only to see the technology become obsolete in a matter of
a very few years.... and never become good enough to have the impact
it should. My suggestion:
Technology is on the verge of merging TV, Radio, Magazines, Phones,
etc around PCs connected with broadband services.
If done right, the cheapest way to have a TV will be to have
one with an integral PC providing Internet, telephone, and much more.
The economics of multiple-use guarantees this:
having one "wire" to the home that does all is
cheaper than having one for TV, one for Internet, one for alarm
systems, one for etc. (And the same economy that works for
"wires" applies to processors, memory, screens, etc.)
The integration is clearly cheaper, in the long run.
Thus, when an underprivileged parent buys a TV purely for
entertainment, that parent's children will have in their home the
"virtual PC" and Internet access the need to be educated in
21st century technology.... virtually at no extra cost!
The same will apply to the TV in the classroom.... and the child
sick at home will be able to participate in class via the TV at home
and the one in his/her class. The
public library will be right there on the same TV the child learned to
use while watching Sesame Street!
THIS should be our “digital divide” elimination process!
Let’s not spend public money fielding obsolete technologies;
spend it on moving to the point where every child has access by virtue
of it coming through the most basic entertainment services his/her
parents are sure to invest in!
The government's HDTV initiative and various Internet and Broadband
initiatives multiply in value and complement each other through this
process of integration.
Read in detail how this is developing in:
Futures: The Two ULTIMATE Internet Appliances”
There are many who agree with the "integrated vision"
described in this article.
For this to happen, however, industry must aggressively begin
integrating technology rather than having market turf wars over, for
example, where the TV ends and the PC begins (to show only one
instance of cross-market stress.)
The DoJ case against Microsoft will be mistakenly used by many
industrialists as an excuse NOT to integrate, with the result being
prices and complexity that keeps this technology out of the hands of
the poor while benefiting the bottom line of a lot of narrow-focus
Example: the cable-box
industry will certainly oppose being absorbed into the PC industry,
the TV makers will fear losing their market to computer monitor
makers, the broadcast industry will resist having their shows
delivered over broadband Internet (possibly recorded and re-played on
demand) even more than they've argued about the shows being carried
real-time by cable providers.
…especially when they see a market leader being ‘taken down’
(in the public perception) for having integrated a browser and an
Please provide LEADERSHIP to ensure that the industry builds toward
a major milestone for society rather than decade after decade of
wasteful turf wars.
I'd suggest an "integrated vision" initiative through the
FCC and the National Bureau of Standards under the leadership of the
Whitehouse science/technology office to encourage industries to build
toward this long-term vision of the cheapest/easiest information
appliance for the home/office... and do it for our children!
Please pass this on to <insert your favorite presidential
candidate> and any others that would like to see the "Digital
Now, to put some spin on the same issue, this time aimed at the
Department of Justice:
Please consider this.... I'd rather see us do something
positive to force these companies to close the "digital
divide" and bring better technology to the marketplace. May
I suggest you look at: http://www.activewin.com/editorials/charles_flink/ink/18.shtml
There is the real potential for avoiding 10 -20 years of turf wars
and, instead, reaching a plateau in the technology where true benefits
to the consumer (and the children of the underprivileged) can be
achieved in just FIVE years!
Let's not waste more time and money trying to convince anyone that
your side (whatever side) is right. Fact is, the DoJ should
reclaim part of the $4 Billion that AOL paid for Netscape, given that
the intellectual property on which the Netscape Navigator was based
properly belonged to the citizens of the US who paid for the
development of the Mosaic browser, the training ground for the
developers of Navigator and the prototype (effectively) from which it
Further, Sun's success was based on the large investment DARPA made in
Berkeley UNIX, the basis of the Sun operating systems for over 20
years. There is a LOT of guilt to go around.
If however, we take down MS, Sun, AOL and Oracle the chilling impact
on the technology market will put us back at least a decade.
(I'm sure there are good examples in the history of Oracle of
monopolistic practices.... how else did they succeed in crushing so
many good DBMS competitors over the years?)
Let's instead focus on a POSITIVE remedy! We need a major
initiative by government to TAKE US TO THE NEXT LEVEL, where
Microsoft's Windows will be effectively obsolete and so many of the
"boundaries" that lead to complexity and in-fighting are
erased. TVs, PCs, browsers, operating systems, etc. are all
artifacts of the history of technology and do not represent any
fundamental boundaries in the technology that will last long.
The "Integrated Vision" has been shown in our movies for
years; it has been written about by many authors; it is long overdue
and owed to our children. The TV, telephone, radio, movies,
print and Internet are CERTAINLY coming together in an integrated,
ubiquitous platform, just as surely as the automobile transitioned
from a "rich person's product" to a commodity forming the
basis of the progress of the 1950's. All the technical barriers
are falling, as described in the referenced article.
What we badly need is to ensure that the narrow-minded "my
company first" mentality driving all the companies I've listed
above "gets out of the way" of the progress. That
progress is certain to eventually close the digital divide and level
the playing field better than ANY court-ordered solution.
I suggest the DoJ go to Sun, Oracle, AOL, Microsoft and others and
propose we spend the next 5 years establishing a set of consensus
standard and interfaces that will guarantee competition while moving
the technology to a plateau beyond the artifacts of the past mistakes
by all involved. Rather than forcing a bloody war between these
big players, one which will ultimately require the DoJ to return and
after-the-fact say who played fair and not,
use this opportunity to form a government sponsored, National Bureau
of Standards administered, integration and standardization effort....
don't just require Microsoft to publish it's APIs! Let's get
together and decide upon a standard set of APIs capable of allowing
ALL these companies to compete on a level field!
Turn this "negative" thing into a POSITIVE step in
overcoming the barriers to technological innovation and integration
that are delaying the progress we all KNOW we can make!
You have invested so very much, directly and indirectly, in this
effort to achieve "justice" with regard to Microsoft.
Don't waste your effort in petty "restrictions" on one
company when there are many doing similar things to benefit selfishly
themselves, or on the formation of two monopolistic companies where
there was one!
Take a POSITIVE step.... close the "Digital Divide" with an
Integrated Vision Initiative! Thanks for your
Now before you flame me, please understand that I do not like
inviting the government into our business. I'm writing the
above letters because, frankly, government has already stepped in and is
in serious danger of doing more harm than good. I'm writing to
help our industry find a positive way out of the dilemma of
government oversight. I hope we in the industry will wear our
"citizen" hats for a while and realize what tremendous good we
could do for our children and our society to encouraging an Integrated
Vision Initiative to start closing the digital divide. It
is the "right" thing to do technically as well. let's
get to it! Write your boss.... it's a business opportunity for
heaven's sake! Write your politicians.... it's potentially a grand
win-win situation with great photo-ops for them! Write your ISP,
your cable company, your long distance provider telling them you'll drop
their service if they act in a reactionary way to this opportunity....
embrace the future!
Caution: obviously, with 15 years in the government and 15
years in AT&T (and 16 years of Catholic education) I'm far more a true
believer and idealist than successful business guru!
I'm convinced this is in the long-term interest of all involved, but
harbor no doubts that the "cliff" rising up to this
"plateau" is strewn with many a loose bolder that can break
loose and flatten the adventurous entrepreneur that makes a
misstep. All the more reason to cooperate in this endeavor instead
of waiting for the bodies to start to pile up! ....embrace the
future! Support this initiative.
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