To Mohammed ComesThe Cybermountain

The computer industry is building a virtual amusement park on Pennsylvania Avenue called Highway One to educate technophobes among Washington's power elite

Five major infotech companies are building a roller-coaster ride through cyberspace for the edification of senators, representatives, and assorted congressional staffers, lobbyists and public-interest groups.

The 6,100-square foot information-age attraction is dubbed "Highway One" and will be built on Pennsylvania Avenue. It will "provide enlightenment and education" about the emerging information highway to politicians, government officials and interest groups, such as the League of Women Voters, said Washington-based project manager Kimberly Jenkins.

The details of the project will be released in the next few months in a blaze of publicity orchestrated by local spin-meisters working for the PR giant Fleischman-Hilliard. Participating companies include Apple Computer Inc., Novell Inc., Bell Atlantic Corp., with Microsoft Corp. playing a limited role, said a Microsoft official. Once operating, the center's 20 workstations and videoconferencing theater will be offered to local politicians and lobbyists to let them get on the Net, hold electronic town-hall meetings with constituents, and generally get hands-on experience in cyberspace, Jenkins said. However, "we are just getting started," she cautioned.

The Highway One plan is emerging as numerous infotech companies battle for revenues from long distance and local phone services, cellular phones, cable TV, satellite communications and information services.

Also, Congress is grappling with a number of high-tech problems, including the rapid deregulation of the telecommunications industry, which is expected to clear $150 billion this year. "Congress is dealing with a lot of issues facing the high-tech industry... [and] there is a general lack of knowledge" in Washington about such problems as radio-spectrum allocation or high-definition television, said Jim Burger, the Washington-based government relations chief for Apple.

"You sit down and talk to people [and] see their eyes glaze over" once the complexities of information technology are discussed, Burger said. Highway One will help explain the information highway and other high-tech development to members of Congress, said Burger. In other words, a place where you might see Jesse Helms in virtual goggles and sensor gloves, or Jim Traficant leading a newsgroup on the Net. "I would like it running yesterday," Burger said. It should be operating by the end of summer, he said. The project's cost has given at least one prospective participant pause. Michael Maibach, Intel Corp.'s Washington-based director of government relations, said he liked the project, but is not sure he can spare employees or funds to join up.


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