THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT AT THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB NEWSMAKER LUNCHEON National Press Club Washington, DC
1:12 P.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. And Clayton Boyce, thank you for your introduction. I want to also thank Reginald Stuart, Chair of the Speakers Committee who is a longtime close friend, and with him I served as a journalist at the National Tennessean some years ago.
Let me also acknowledge some of the distinguished guests who are present. I know that I will miss several, but I want to start by acknowledging Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, who in addition to his other duties within the administration is the Chairman of the Information Infrastructure Task Force and has worked very closely with me and our administration team in putting together the legislation that I'm going to talk about in general terms here today and on communications policy generally, and has been providing outstanding leadership for the administration.
Also Laura Tyson, who is not only Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers but a key member of that working group on communications that has been meeting weekly in the White House for quite a long time now, working through the issues involved here. May I also acknowledge out in the audience President Clinton's nominee and the newly confirmed Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, a longtime friend, Reed Hundt.
I want to say that it's a great pleasure to be here after a lengthy trip to Russia and Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and Germany. I still have jet lag, though -- nature's way of making you look like your passport photograph. (Laughter.) I can assure you that I have fully readjusted from the trip and -- I'm waiting for the interpreter to finish that. (Laughter.) Actually I'm really happy to be home and I'm very happy to be talking about telecommunications to people whose lives will be shaped by the changes ahead for us.
How we engineer those changes is critically important. There are good ways to do it and there are bad ways to do it. It's a little bit like the story that Governor Ned McWherter tells frequently in Tennessee, and I'm sure many of you have heard it, about the veterinarian and the taxidermist who went into business together; and the sign on the front of their establishment said "either way you get your dog back." (Laughter.) For those in the communications policy business, that might be an example of the need to unbundle some services. (Laughter.)
I'm pleased to announce today that at the beginning of the new year, President Clinton will present to Congress a package of legislative and administrative proposals on telecommunications.
Today, I want to talk about the future that we envision. But I'd like to start by talking about an incident from the past. There's a lot of romance surrounding the sinking of the Titanic 91 years ago. But when you strip away the romance, a tragic story emerges that tells us a lot about human beings and something about telecommunications. Why did the ship that couldn't be sunk steam full speed ahead into an ice field -- for in the last few hours before the Titanic hit the iceberg, other ships were sending messages like this one from the Mesaba -- latitude 42 north and so forth --saw much heavy pack ice and a great number of large icebergs, also ice field. Why when the Titanic operators sent distress signal after distress signal did so few ships respond?
Well, the answer as the investigations after the tragedy proved is that the wireless radio business at that time was just that, a business. Operators had no obligation to remain on duty to listen for important messages that might carry some warning. They were to do what was profitable and nothing else. When the day's work was done, often consisting of the lucrative transmissions from wealthy passengers, operators shut off their sets and caught up on their sleep.
In fact, when the last ice warnings were sent that night, the Titanic operators were awake, but they were too involved sending those private messages from the well-to-do in order to listen to incoming messages. And when they sent the distress signals after the collision, the operators on the other ships had themselves gone to bed. The distress signals couldn't be heard, in other words, because the airwaves were chaotic. Willy-nilly transmissions without regulation. The Titanic wound up two miles under the surface of the North Atlantic, in part, because people had not yet realized that radio was not simply a curiosity, but could be a way to save lives.
Ironically, that tragedy resulted in the first efforts to bring some order to the airwaves. Government got involved because there are certain public needs that sometimes outweigh private interest. Today, as divers explore the hulk of the Titanic, we face a similar problem. A new world awaits us. It is one that cannot only save lives but utterly change and enrich lives. And we need to rethink the role of government once more in order to balance private needs and public interest.
It is important in discussing the information age that we discuss not merely technology but the essence of communications. Because from communications comes community. For example, not long ago when travel was very difficult, communities were small and communication was personal and direct between families, neighbors, those doing business together. Then the means of travel improved, moving us all away from each other and making communication more difficult. Until recently, for example, if an immigrant came to the United States from England or France or China or Russia, it meant saying good-bye to one's family that stayed in the Old World and never having a conversation with them again.
Now we see television advertisements from companies competing for the lucrative business of communicating -- of providing the communications links between families that are separated by the oceans. And technology has brought us together in other ways as well. I read a little while ago about a family that was scattered in many countries around the world, where in more than a hundred different members of the same family keep in touch through the Internet. They keep people informed of births and deaths and graduations, and children in dozens of countries who have never met each other feel as if they know each other and understand the bonds of family.
Last week, when I was in Kyrgyzstan, President Akayev of that country said that his eight-year-old son said to him, "Father, I must learn English." He said, "Why?" He said, "Because the computer speaks English." (Laughter.)
Our world is being brought closer together. And it's important in focusing on what is ahead in communications to zero in, not just on the technology, but on what we use the technology for. When one of those families wants to communicate across the oceans, they don't say let's use the telephone, they say, let's call grandmother.
We haven't always kept that distinction in mind. You may know the story about the reaction in London at the Stock Exchange when the telephone was first invented and someone said, "Who needs so many telephones; we have messenger boys." It didn't take long to see that there were some things those messenger boys couldn't do, like handling two-way communication in the same conversation. We figured out new uses each time those telephones changed from wooden boxes on the wall to desk phones to more convenient models with long cords, and then cordless phones and car phones and cell phones that allow us to talk while we drive or while we walk.
We'll go through the same process again with the changes that are in store over the next decade. And make no mistake about it, these changes coming in the related fields of telecommunications and computing and telephony and the other related fields are going together to make up one of the most powerful revolutions in the entire history of humankind.
Today, most people are primarily receivers of information through the electronic media. We watch television, we listen to the radio. In this coming decade, we will each transmit more and more information as well over the same lines of communication. We send and receive, not just on the telephone as we do now, but across the full range of the new technologies. Each person will turn from being just a consumer to being a consumer and a provider.
In a way, this change represents another kind of empowerment. The quality revolution in the factory treats each individual as a source of added value. The communications revolution recognizes each individual as a source of information that adds value to our community and to our economy. After all, interactive television will not mean just yelling at the television when the referee makes a bad call -- (laughter) -- it will mean holding a business meeting without leaving your living room. It will mean that people at home can use the television set not simply as passive entertainment but as an active tool. These changes are coming not overnight or out of the blue, rather they are the outgrowth of a steady series of changes that encompass much of our history.
It used to be that nations were more or less successful in their competition with other nations depending upon the quality of their transportation infrastructure. The nation with the best deep water ports or the most efficient railroads had a competitive advantage over others. And we began to think about infrastructure in those terms. After World War II tens of millions of American families first purchased automobiles and thousands of businesses began to rely on trucks every single day, we quickly found our network of two-lane highways to be hopelessly inadequate. And so we built a network of interstate highways. And that contributed enormously to our post-war economic dominance of the world.
Well, today commerce rolls not just on asphalt highways but along information highways. And tens of millions of American families and businesses now use computers and find that the two-lane information roads built for telephone service are no longer adequate. It's not that we have a shortage of information -- indeed, we often now have a lot more than we know what to do with.
It was said once that John Stuart Mill, who lived through much of the 19th century was described as the last man to know everything. Since his time, no matter what field you chose it was hopeless to expect that you could have an approximation of the entirety of knowledge in that field.
We face a much more serious version of that problem now. Take just one brief example, the Landsat satellite. We're trying to understand the global environment, and the Landsat satellite is capable of taking a complete photograph of the Earth's surface every 18 days and has been up there for 20 years. And yet 95 percent of all of the images it has made have never been seen by human eyes, have never fired off a single neuron in a single human brain. The images are just stored in electronic silos. It's sort of like the criticism of our old agricultural policy where we stored lots and lots of grain in silos and let it rot while millions starved to death. Now, similarly we have an insatiable hunger for knowledge as we try to find the information we need to solve the challenging problems that confront us; and yet in many cases the information just sits rotting away unused.
Part of the problem has to do with a change in the way we configure and present information. Someone once said that if we tried to use computer terms to describe the way our brains operate, we could say that we have a low bit rate but very high resolution -- meaning that, for example, the telephone company decided a few years ago that seven numbers presented bit by bit -- seven numbers was the most we could contain in short-term memory. That's a low bit rate. Then they added three more numbers. (Laughter.)
On the other hand, we can absorb billions of bits of information if they are arrayed in a pattern that is recognizable, like a human face or a galaxy of stars. In order to communicate richly detailed images of a kind that allow us to deal with large quantities of information, we have to combine two technologies -- first, computers and then transmission lines or networks. Computers now have a rapidly growing capacity to transform data into recognizable patterns or images that allow us to use them handily. And we're making greater use of them every year.
But in order to communicate those images or those conglomerations of vast quantities of data among ourselves, we need networks capable of carrying those images to every house and business. We know how to do that technologically, but in order to accomplish it, we have to unscramble the legal regulatory and financial problems that have thus far threatened our ability to complete such a network.
In the few places where such a capacity now exists, we are already using it to communicate in ways that enrich and even save our lives. For example, we use it with Matthew Meredith, a six-yearold boy who recently underwent a bone marrow transplant. His doctors recommended that because his immune system was still gaining strength, he shouldn't begin his classes in Topeka at the Randolph Elementary School. So the school and the local telephone company teamed up to bring first grade to him through two-way video services and a television camera. He was able to take part in class --Matthew used a fax machine to hand in his assignments and participate in class almost as if he was right there. The kids in his class got a glimpse of video conferencing technology that will be common in a few years.
In West Virginia, doctors are using the Mountaineer Doctor Television Project to link with specialists at West Virginia University. A while back, two month old Zachary Buchanan had an irregular heartbeat. Using the network his family doctor sent an image of his heart to a pediatric cardiologist a hundred miles away. The diagnosis -- that the condition wasn't serious -- meant that Zachary did not have to travel halfway across the state for treatment.
All of these applications will enhance the quality of life and will spur economic growth. After all, even the quickest glance at the telecommunications sector of the economy shows what it means for jobs. Over half of the U.S. work force is now in jobs that are information-based. The telecommunications and information sector of the U.S. economy now accounts for more than 12 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. And it's growing much faster than any other sector of our economy.
Last year the revenues in this sector exceeded $700 billion, and we exported over $48 billion of telecommunications equipment alone. When AT&T sold the first cellular phone, they did their calculations and predicted that by the year 2000 there would be 900,000 cellular phones in the United States. Well, we have 13 million now and it's still 1993. The predictions now for the year 2000 for mobile telephone users totals 60 million, not 900,000.
This kind of growth in this and other industries in telecommunications will create thousands and tens of thousands of new jobs. But the biggest impact may be in other industrial sectors where those technologies will help American companies compete better and smarter in the global economy.
Today more than ever, businesses run on information. A fast, flexible information network is as essential to manufacturing as steel and plastic. If we do not move decisively to ensure that America has the information infrastructure we need, every business and consumer in America will suffer. But there are obstacles that lie in our path. Many of them are there in the system we have created over the last 60 years. Systems of regulation that made sense when telephones were one thing and cable another may simply limit competition in a world in which all information can flow interchangeably over the same conduits.
To understand what new systems we must create though, we must first understand how the information marketplace of the future will operate. One helpful way is to think of the national information infrastructure as a network of highways, much like the interstates of the 1950s. These are highways carrying information rather than people or goods. And it's not just one eight-lane turnpike, but a collection of interstates and feeder roads made of different materials in the same way that highways are concrete or macadam or gravel. Some highways will be made of fiberoptics, others of coaxial cable, others will be wireless. But this is a key point: They must and will be two-way highways so that each person will be able to send information in video form as well as just words, as well as receiving information.
These new information highways will be wider than today's technology permits. That's because a television program contains so much -- so many more bits of information than a telephone conversation, and because new uses of video and voice and computers will consist of even more information moving at even faster speeds. These are the computer equivalent of wide loads that need wide roads again in both directions.
This new information marketplace, based on these highways include four major components: First, the owners of the highways, because unlike the interstates, the information highways will be built, paid for and funded principally by the private sector. Second, the makers of information appliances, like telephones, televisions and computers, and the new products of the future that will combine aspects of all three. Third, information providers -- local broadcasters, digital libraries, information service providers and millions of individuals who will want to share or sell information. And most important, fourth, information customers who will justly demand privacy, affordability and choice.
At some time in the next two decades, we will think about the information marketplace in terms of these four components. We will not talk about cable or telephones or cellular or wireless, because there will be free and open competition between everyone who provides and delivers information. This administration intends to create an environment that stimulates a private system of freeflowing information conduits. It will involve a variety of affordable and innovative appliances and products, giving individuals and public institutions the best possible opportunity to be both information customers and providers.
Anyone who wants to form a business to deliver information will have the means of reaching customers. And any person who wants information will be able to choose among competing information providers at reasonable prices. That's what the future will look like in, say, 10 or 15 years. That's the future we must create.
But how do we get there from here? This is the key question now facing government. It is during the transition period that the most complexity exists and that government involvement is the most important. It's a so-called phase change -- like moving from ice to water. Ice is simple and water is simple, but in the middle of the change there's a mixture of both. In this case, part monopoly, part franchise, part open competition. We want to manage that transition.
And so I am announcing today that the administration will support removal over time and under appropriate conditions of judicial and legislative restrictions on all types of telecommunications companies -- cable, telephone, utilities, television and satellite. We will do this through both legislative and administrative proposals, prepared after extensive consultation with Congress, industry, public interest and consumer groups and state and local governments.
Our goal is not to design the market of the future. It is to provide the principles that shape that market. And it is to provide the rules governing this difficult transition to an open market for information. We are committed in that transition to protecting the availability, affordability and diversity of information and information technology as market forces replace regulations and judicial models that are simply no longer appropriate.
On January 11th, in Los Angeles, I will participate in a day-long session during which I will outline in more detail the main components of the legislative proposals we will present. Today, though, I want to set forth the principles upon which it will be based -- and there are five principles. First, encourage private investment. The example of Samuel Morse is relevant here. His telegraph was a federal demonstration project funded by Congress between Washington and Baltimore. Afterwards, though, after the first amazing transmission, most nations treated the telegraph and eventually the telephone service as a government enterprise. That's what Morse wanted, too, but the Congress said no; find private investors. This he, and other entrepreneurs eventually did; and in the view of most historians, our nation has a tremendous advantage in telecommunications because we encourage private investment instead of a government monopoly.
We face a similar choice now. We must steer a course between a modern Scylla and Charybdis; between the shoals of suffocating regulation on one side and the rocks of unfettered monopolies on the other. Both stifle competition and innovation.
The Clinton administration believes, though, that as with the telegraph, our role is to encourage the building of the national information infrastructure by the private sector as rapidly as possible.
The second principle is to promote and to protect competition. I've talked about highways, and you know that all roads once led to Rome, but how many lead to each home? One, or two, or more? Whatever the answer to that question, the same principle should apply. We must prevent unfair cross-subsidies and act to avoid information bottlenecks that would limit consumer choice or limit the ability of new information providers to reach their customers. Because of the nature of these networks there are certain links that are vulnerable to control by a very few. And that can lead to the expansion of a monopoly power to other parts of the network, and we must guard against that. We can see aspects of this question in the debate over the powers of the regional Bell operating companies, and in the passage last year of the Cable Act of 1992, and in the proposal to open up or unbundle the local telephone loop.
The third principle is to provide open access to the network. If someone has an information service to provide over the network, they should be able to do it just by paying a fair and equitable price to the network service provider. Without provisions for open access, the companies that own the networks could use their control of the networks to ensure that their customers only have access to their programming. We've already seen cases where cable company owners have used their monopoly control over their networks to exclude programming that competes with their own programming. Our legislation will contain strong safeguards against such behavior. Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus and head of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has spoken about the need for the national information infrastructure to be a so-called open platform. The IBM personal computer is an open platform that any software programmer can use. They can develop software to run on the PC, and they develop a socalled killer application as he did with Lotus 1-2-3, they can make a lot of money.
In the 1980s, thousands of programmers developed thousands of different programs which increased the productivity of our businesses, helped our children learned and helped families balance their checkbooks. We need to ensure that the national information infrastructure, just like the personal computer, is open and accessible to everyone with a good idea who has a product they want to sell. It's essential.
Fourth, we want to avoid creating a society of information haves and have-nots. That original expression, haves and have-nots comes from Cervantes. But we're not tilting at windmills here. This is the outgrowth of an old American tradition. Broadcasts, telephones and public education were all designed to diminish the gap between haves and have-nots. In the past, universal service meant that local phone companies were required to provide a minimum level of plain old telephone service for a minimal price. State and federal regulations provided for subsidies to customers in poor and rural areas. The most important step we can take to ensure universal service is to adopt policies that result in lower prices for everyone. And the lower the price, the less need for subsidies. We believe the pro-competitive policies we will propose will result in lower prices and better service to more Americans. But we will still need a regulatory safety net to make sure that virtually everyone will be able to benefit.
In the past, it was relatively simple to fund universal service. The local telephone companies were regulated monopolies that could be required to provide lifeline services. As more companies entered the market, as many of the regulations are removed, we have to find new ways of dong the same thing. Just last week, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce held a hearing in New Mexico to examine just that question and we're going to incorporate their findings in our legislation. As we think about the future of universal service, as a society ought to think -- we as a society ought to think about what kind of service and on what group of people we have to concentrate.
Well, for one thing, schools and our children have to be paramount. Reed Hundt, the new head of the FCC, said recently there are thousands of buildings in this country with millions of people in them who have no telephones, no cable television and no reasonable prospect of broad-band services. They're called schools. But when it comes to ensuring universal service, our schools cannot remain the most impoverished institutions in our society.
We cannot relax restrictions from legislation and judicial decisions without strong commitments and safeguards that there will be a public right-of-way on the information highway. We have to protect the interest of the public sector in order to provide affordable services for education, public health and government.
Fifth, and the final principle, is that we want to encourage flexibility. After all, flexibility and adaptability are essential if we are to develop policies that will stand the test of time. Technology is advancing so rapidly and the structure of the industry is changing so quickly that we must have policies broad enough to accommodate change.
As the administration develops this legislation we're trying hard to follow the example set by the authors of the 1934 act and anticipate the certainty of many, many changes that will come just ahead. We're trying hard to enunciate key principles of policy, identify which government agencies will implement the policy, and then leave many of the details to them.
I don't want to sound like I've thought all these ideas up. I haven't. The fact is, in Congress, several important pieces of legislation have already been introduced. The Brooks-Dingell bill in the House, for example -- it and the Markey-Fields bill represent major steps forward, not to mention more than a year of hard work by those four members of Congress, and others, including Congressman Boucher and Congressman Oxley.
In the Senate, Senators Danforth and Inouye have introduced a major piece of legislation, and Senator Fritz Hollings is working on another. We're communicating carefully with all of these leaders in the Congress. Between now and the beginning of the next session we'll continue our dialogue with them, with industry and public interest groups to formulate our proposal for legislative and administrative action.
With high-level congressional support, a growing consensus in industry and leadership from the President, we have a unique opportunity. We can eliminate many of the regulatory barriers now in the path of the information superhighway and perform the most major surgery on the Communications Act since it was enacted in 1934. We will do it be avoiding both extremes -- regulation for regulation's sake, or the blind adherence to the dead hand of a free market economist. We will do it with the principle that has guided so much of the administration's efforts over the last year -- the urgent need to create flexible and responsive government.
It's fitting that this address is being delivered here at the National Press Club because almost every form of communication you can imagine is present here in this room, from the spoken word to people who are taking notes -- some typing on laptops; some of you will publish your observations through the use of printing presses, others on television or radio reports. People tuned into C-Span are watching on television; still others are listening on NPR or over a prototype of the NII, the Internet.
All of these forms of communication bring us together. They allow us to participate in a virtually instantaneous dialogue to debate and then to build a consensus on the nature of America's information infrastructure. But even more, as I said at the outset, these methods of communication allow us to build a society that is healthier, more prosperous and better educated. They will allow us to strengthen the bonds of community and to build new information communities.
The challenge is not in the end the new technology, it is holding true to our basic principles. Whether our tools were the quill pens that wrote and then signed the Declaration of Independence or the laptop computers being used to write the constitutions of newly-freed countries, better communication has almost always led to greater freedom and greater economic growth. That is our challenge, and that is what this administration and our nation will achieve.
Once when Michael Faraday, the inventor of the electric generator, was showing Benjamin Disraeli through his lab and taking pleasure in demonstrating his new inventions. At the end of the tour Disraeli said, "Well, what good are all these things?" Faraday answered, "What good is a baby?" If we take the narrow view, it looks as if telecommunications is out of its infancy. But if we cast our eyes ahead a few decades, or even a century, we see that it's barely out of diapers.
We need to look ahead, to protect it when it needs protecting, but not get in the way when it needs to walk alone. Like those wireless operators should have done in the North Atlantic, we should be alert to where the collisions could take place, and we shouldn't hesitate to chart a new course.
If we do that, then much more than the telecommunications industry will grow strong. This country will grow strong and humankind will as well.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Q If you're talking about totally deregulating the information highway what steps do you think should be taken to ensure that the information superhighway is not captured by a few megacorporations for anticompetitive purposes?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: One of the policymakers who has been meeting with us on a regular basis for the last several months is Ann Bingaman, the Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, and our administration believes very strongly, as I said in part of this presentation, that just as suffocating overregulation can stifle competition and innovation, so the abandonment of antitrust principles and the surrender to private conglomerations of monopoly power can have the same effect.
We intend in this administration to make certain that the laws are enforced we intend in this administration to make certain that the laws are enforced fairly and thoroughly, including those that are designed to prevent anti-competitive practices.
Q Where does the administration stand on the pending legislation -- the Markey-Fields bill, the Dingell-Brooks bill and the Danforth-Inouye bill in the Senate? Are you asking that those be shelved now?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, not at all. In fact, we have worked very carefully with the sponsors of those bills, each of which take on a slightly different part of the larger set of issues. They've done a lot of heavy lifting. They have achieved some significant breakthroughs. We are still in communication with them about how to incorporate our view of the right outcome on particular parts of the problems they address. But the basic principles of the Brooks-Dingell bill, for example, and the Markey-Fields bill are ones that we endorse.
Q What is the administration's position on the proposed TCI-Bell Atlantic merger? Senator Metzenbaum said he expects the Justice Department will modify it substantially. Do you agree?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, that will be for the Justice Department to determine. And we have no intention of interfering in the legal analysis of a pending matter of that kind. We have not done so, and we will not do so.
Q To what extent does your legislation package that you're formulating now extend to encompass an international information highway?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: When I was in the former -- the republics of the former Soviet Union last week, one of the most important requests by these various leaders was to gain access to the Internet and to the successors to the Internet. And there are already communications links over this prototype network in many, many nations around the world. That is in our interests. It is to our advantage to continue and broaden those links, and we'll do that.
Q You mentioned this, but how specifically could you make sure that people of all economic strata gain simultaneous access to the information superhighway?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The principal universal service has been interpreted in the case of telephone service to mean that what we now have is about 93, 94 percent of all American families have telephone service and it is regarded as affordable to virtually -- by virtually everyone. Our definition of universal service, once the cluster of services that are encompassed is agreed upon is that approximately the same percentage should have access to the richer information products as well, so that a school child in my hometown of Carthage, Tennessee, population 2,000, could come home after class and sit down and instead of playing a video game with a cartridge, plug into the Library of Congress and learn at his or her own pace according to the curiosity that seizes that child at the moment --not just in the form of words, but color moving graphics and pictures.
We know how to do that. There are no technological obstacles. There are no discoveries remaining to be made to put that kind of resource at the disposal of school children and families and small businesses throughout this country. The only obstacles are legal, regulatory, and financial. We have the capacity to solve those problems.
What I'm saying here today is we want to create an information marketplace 10 to 15 years from now that makes that possible. We want to manage the transition from our current marketplace to that one in ways that provide universal service, protect competition, stimulate investment, and enrich our nation.
There is a growing consensus in private industry, among leaders on Capitol Hill and in the public interest community about how we can do that. That's why you've seen the emergence of important bills in the Congress over the past year. That's why the national debate has heated up so much since President Clinton authorized Ron Brown and me to put out the national information infrastructure blueprint soon after we took office in January.
The good news is we're headed in the right direction. We know where we want to end up; now we have to tackle the difficult transition issues about how to get there.
Q If I could put in a plug here. The National Press Club and the National Press Foundation are working to develop a state of the art electronic library here for journalists and the public, including a link to the Internet. As a former journalist, could you talk about how technology has changed a reporter's job.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: When I first started working at the Nashville Tennessean with Reggie Stuart, we did it the old-fashioned way and typed it out on a piece of paper and handed it in, and it would be marked up with a lead pencil, and we'd go and type it again.
We then went to a transition technology calling for something known as scanner-ready copy. Anybody here remember that? Where you would type it with a different kind of typewriter and then feed it into a machine that read it in to the computer. Now, of course, there are the regular word processors on every desk that feeds the electronic impulses straight into the typesetter.
We, as a nation, are going through a similar transition now. We're moving from the old technology through a transition stage that is partly old and partly new, and we're going to end up with a new information infrastructure that relies on digits of information -- bits of information, zeros and ones. Television signals will be digitized, radio, videos -- all of it will be just in the form of bits. But because we're in this transition stage, we still have regulatory and legal frameworks that were built up around the old technologies which have all these distinctions that are no longer especially relevant. But moving from one to the other will be just about as awkward as that scanner-ready copy was in the newsroom.
Q Switch topics here. You've just returned from Russia. What are your impressions of Zhirinovsky and the future of democratic reform?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist, whose party gained almost twice the number of votes of any other party in the election that provided for half of their lower House of Parliament, has made statements and expressed views, as I have said previously, I think are reprehensible and an anathema to those of us in this world who love freedom. I think his victory has to be put into context. As President Clinton said, much of it is attributable to a protest against the serious economic conditions in Russia. Their depression is much deeper than our Great Depression of the 1930s. They have lost, just in one year, the same number of defense jobs that we've lost over the last five years, and there is a growing impatience there.
The victory of the Constitution in Russia is, in my opinion, a more important outcome of that election. It contains a world class Bill of Rights. And even though the strength it provides to the Executive Branch has inspired some controversy in the American context, it nevertheless provides a legal basis for a government of laws and not people. And the forces of reform and democratization will probably have, after all is said and done, a narrow majority in the new Parliament. Now, how the coalitions form and which independents go in which direction, that all remains to be seen. But the overall result should cause us to redouble our efforts, and I hope will cause nations around the world to listen more carefully to what President Clinton has been saying all year long about the need for the world to rally much more effectively to support the process of reform and democratization under way there.
Q You had suggested that conditions for aid to Russia should be loosened. How exactly do you propose to do that, and why?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, let me tell you what I'm not saying there. The so-called conditions imposed upon a lot of multilateral aid by the International Monetary Fund are designed to ensure that hyperinflation doesn't get out of hand, and that basic economic conditions essential to inspiring the confidence of private investors inside Russia and from other countries are established. And that's a legitimate task which has to be pursued. But the way these conditions are imposed now, the people in charge don't always take into account the social impact of the implementation of these restrictions and conditions. Ambitious targets will be set, the Russian authorities will make great efforts to meet those targets. If they fall just short, then it's a yes or no decision. They don't get any of the aid that is conditioned upon exactly meeting the target.
I think it's good that the IMF has begun to change and search for ways to take social impact into account. The World Bank has been a little faster off the mark and has changed more readily than the IMF, but both are beginning to change.
Now, these are good people who are administering these programs. They recognize the message of these elections as it applies to what they're doing. And I think not only here in the United States but in other countries with representatives on the boards of these institutions, you're seeing a great effort to look at the pace of the reform process implicit in these conditions; to look at the way the conditions are administered and to try to take the social impact more into account even as we continue to have conditions that work to establish the right macroeconomic conditions.
Q One last question that came in from the Internet -- this is from the University of Texas at Austin. Recently groups of artisan scholars on the Internet have been discussing the lack of input from people in the arts and humanities in policymaking for the national information infrastructure. What plans do you have to make sure that the needs of the arts and humanities are met by the science and business interests?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the arts and humanities communities have been very active users of the Internet. And we are keenly interested in the views of those in that community about the future of our national information infrastructure. During the hearing process that NTIA is carrying out and during the consultation process that our task force will be carrying out over the next few weeks and months, we will certainly seek out such views.
Q Before asking the final question, I'd like to present you with a certificate for appearing here today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. This means a lot to me, and I appreciate that very much. (Applause.)
Q A disc with all the comments and questions that came in on the Internet for you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's pretty impressive. Thank you very much.
Q A book by National Press Club member Herbert Block -- "Herb Block, A Cartoonist's Life," and I've marked the place where you're mentioned. It's right in here. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: There's only one place in here? (Laughter.)
Q There's only one cartoon, I'm sorry. (Laughter.) And also it would not be a luncheon without the mug.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Q I also wanted to correct -- we did have more than 6,000 questions for Santa Claus; and I said 100 for you -- actually it was 200. (Laughter.) A lot better than I thought.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Twice as good.
Q Right. With all the remarks about your wooden appearance -- (laughter) -- I must quote Barbara Walters, "If he could be any kind of tree, what kind of tree would he be?" (Laughter and applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: What's your favorite color? (Laughter.). Let me say that I just don't understand all of these comments -- didn't you see me dance Inauguration night? (Laughter.) Didn't you see that? The next day, after Tipper and I danced, there were all these people who came up and said, you know, your wife is a great dancer. (Laughter.) And I waited, and -- you know, I kind of thought there was another half to the remark, but for some reason it didn't come. But even that did not prepare me for the Jay Leno Al Gore dance party contest. I don't know if you saw that where he called five guys at random out of the audience and had a contest to see if anyone could dance more stiffly or worse than Al Gore, and nobody won? (Laughter.)
Thank you all very much. I'm glad to be here. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.)
END2:05 P.M. EST