Industry Lobbies Go Global

n Outside government's control, the international infotech industry is cooperating to impose its agenda on the emerging Global Information Infrastructure

Beyond government's reach, executives from the world's infotech companies are quietly laying the political and legal groundwork for the emergence of an industry-led Global Information Infrastructure.

These groups are trying to eliminate numerous obstacles to the GII, including government control of encryption technology, state ownership of telecommunications companies, as well as incompatible technical standards and weak legal protection for intellectual property such as software.

And they're having some success, at least in the United States. For example, industry officials say they expect U.S. controls on the export of privacy-enhancing encryption software to be soon relaxed. Also, U.S. industry began work June 20 with the Commerce Department on a plan to open up the international telecommunications market.

The GII is emerging as international telecommunications networks are linked to national phone systems and computer nets. Further, automation in manufacturing and services worldwide, such as health care and insurance, will extend the global network's reach.

The Washington-based Global Information Infrastructure Commission includes representatives from major infotech companies from the United States, Japan, Europe, Columbia and Senegal.

The commission also includes officials heading government agencies or government-controlled organizations in China, Malaysia and Singapore.

The commission is chaired by Diana Lady Dougan, a White House official during the 1980s now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Dougan's co-chairs include the chiefs of EDS Corp, Plano, Texas; Siemens AG and Mitsubishi Corp.

The commission "is purposely structured to be a means of getting out from under the geo-political and bureaucratic limitations of government or intergovernment organizations," according to a commission statement.

Another industry consortium includes the Washington-based Information Technology Industry Council; JEIDA, the Japanese Electronic Industry Development Association, and EUROBIT, the European Association of Manufacturers of Business Machines and Information Technology Industry. "We're absolutely outside of [government]," said ITI official Meghan Rainey. The group compressed its views into a paper delivered to the G-7 Information Society Summit, held in February.

It was "an excellent paper, which provided some of the most valuable industry input to the G-7 process," said Mike Nelson, Vice President Al Gore's technology chief.

In October 1996, the ITI group will try to broaden its membership further by enlisting support from the International Information Industry Congress, whose members include companies from the U.S., Europe and Japan, as well as Australia, Brazil and New Zealand, said Rainey.

The ITI group is trying to hammer out common industry positions on difficult issues, said Rainey.

The GII Commission's strategy is broader than the ITI coalition. For example, it is holding regional meetings where industry officials can publicly lay out the advantages of the emerging GII, said commission spokesman Charles Loveridge.

"This is a blue-sky organization [intended] to make it possible for everyone to understand what technology exists and how it could be used by everyone," he said.

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