Public Policy Dimensions of Universal Access
The PRP group's work in East Austin is motivated by a set of broader public policy concerns. Our five primary concerns revlove around the development and characteristics of the nation's telecommunications infrastructure, as well as the potential impact of information technology on low-income individuals and communities. These concerns are:
- Universal Access. We believe that public policy should work to ensure that information technology is available to all citizens in every community. We believe that universal access will require: an infrastructure of accessible hardware and software, including public access computing stations; content that is meaningful, useful, and engaging for a wide variety of users; special efforts to reach out to underserved populations and communities; and a process of learning how to use the technology that is dynamic and engages learners in tecahing their skills to others.
- Choice and Control. Public policy should maximize individuals' choice and control over their access to and use of information technology. Users must have maximal choice in the form and type of content available to them, as well as the technological platform they use to access that content. Users should also have maximal power to control the extent and costs of their own useage.
- Open Networks. On the model of the Internet, public information networks should be structured on the basis of common protocols and widely disseminated linkages, rather than centralized or hierarchical controls. All users should be able to both originate and receive content on the same basis. And the principle of free expression must be preserved.
- Human Development Universal access to information technology has the potential to enhance the human development of individuals in low-income communities. It can increase educational and employment opportunities; provide new avenues for artistic expression; stimulate interaction across geographical and social boundaries; and provide socially isolated individuals with ready access to human services, education, culture, and other information resources. Public policies, both inside and outside the boundaries of "telecommunications policy," must support these applications of information technology.
- Community Development. Universal access can also improve the quality of community life and community relationships. It can improve the economic climate of depressed neighborhoods; facilitate broader and higher-quality participation in political debate; and forge stronger ties between neighborhoods and localities that are divided by geography, socioeconomic status, or culture. Public policies should seek to realize this potential.
We do not believe that public policy is exclusively the domain of government. To accomplish these policy goals, both the public and private sectors will have to develop initiatives that address them in the context of local needs and realities.
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