Think tank on internet policy formed

A nonprofit organisation devoted to promoting the study and understanding of the Internet was launched yesterday by a group of people well-known in the information technology field who say there is too little unbiased, hard data available about the new communications medium.

The new think tank, called the Internet Policy Institute (IPI), will be based in Washington, but lobbying politicians and pushing a particular technology agenda or standard are not part of its mission, officials said yesterday at a news conference to launch the institute. Instead, the IPI will shape itself in the image of the Brookings Institution, a venerable Washington research organisation that publishes analysis and criticism on public policy issues, officials said.

According to the founders, the IPI is the first independent, nonprofit research and educational institute created to provide objective, high-quality analysis, research, educational and outreach programs on the economic, social and policy issues affecting and effected by the Internet.

While there is a lot of information available about the Internet, much of it is noise and hype driven by companies, said Jim Barksdale, former chief executive officer of Netscape Communications and co-chairman of the IPI.

"The fact is we have very few facts," Barksdale said. "The purpose of the Internet Policy Institute is to gather the kind of data that's going to be essential to develop the Internet."

Barksdale, who shares the chairmanship of the IPI with Wayne Clough, president of Georgia Tech, was joined at the news conference by four other board members of the IPI: Vinton Cerf, senior vice president of Internet architecture at MCI WorldCom; Esther Dyson, chairman of Edventure Holdings; Mario Morino, chairman of the Morino Institute; and Kimberly Jenkins, president of the Internet Policy Institute.

America Online, the Morino Institute, MCI WorldCom, Nasdaq, Network Solutions, the Washington Post, Science Applications International, AT&T, the Potomac KnowledgeWay and the Maverick Foundation provided a total of about $US750,000 in seed money to the IPI, Jenkins said. The IPI, which expects to spend about $3 million in its first year of operation, plans to receive most of its money from foundations and individuals, she added.

Morino said the IPI was conceived about a year ago, and the idea was tested to ensure that there was in fact a need for such an institute.

"We saw that there were think tanks, but there was a clear need for an independent forum that took a longer-term approach," Marino said. "There's tons of information collected and made available, but it's proprietary."

The first research studies sponsored by the institute will examine the impact of the Internet on the economy, a report that Barksdale said will be fascinating to the IPI board and most other people involved in Internet policy. Many questions remain unanswered about the effect of the Internet on the economy, particularly when US government officials are sometimes at a loss to explain thoroughly the Internet's role in the current economic boom.

The IPI also will release a series of papers at a rate of about one a month covering the Internet and a range of issues, including electronic commerce, taxation, education and privacy. The papers will be called "Briefing the President" and will be aimed at giving the president and other top US policy makers a familiarity with the fundamental nature of the Internet.

Jenkins said the IPI is exploring the idea of hosting a political debate of the presidential candidates that will focus on the Internet. She also said the organisation plans soon to have IT officials from other countries join the board of directors of IPI.

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More about America OnlineAT&TCloughEDventure HoldingsInternet Policy InstituteMCIMCI WorldComScience Applications InternationalWorldCom

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