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Gore Calls for All-Inclusive Information Superhighway

By John Lippman
and Amy Harmon

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES

Vice President Al Gore told a meeting of the corporate elite of Hollywood and the telecommunications industries Tuesday that the disadvantaged should not be left stranded on the shoulder of the information superhighway.

Speaking at a University of California, Los Angeles, conference, Gore said that the Clinton administration is willing to break down regulatory barriers to permit telephone and cable TV companies to compete in offering a broad array of interactive services, but only on condition that the information highway toll is not too steep.

More than 2,000 communications industry executives packed the meeting to hear Gore and power-brokers such as cable TV's John C. Malone and Hollywood mogul Barry Diller.

While industry executives generally praised Gore's remarks, there was no broad consensus reached at the summit and some worried about too much government interference. "The devil will be in the details, but basically what we heard was right on,'' said Bell Atlantic chief executive Raymond Smith, one of the most aggressive proponents of the interactive future.

Although everyone agreed that the information superhighway is coming soon, there was little consensus about how it will evolve, how much it would cost, or how quickly people will be able to access it through their computers, telephone or television sets.

Some said the venue was a good one for often adversarial government and industry leaders -- FCC chairman Reed Hundt also addressed the crowd -- to hash out their respective roles in building the nation's new infrastructure.

"They're attempting to demystify this so people won't be scared into creating legislation,'' said Michael Milken, who is involved in interactive educations projects.

Yet members of the Hollywood crowd seemed unsure of their place in the sparring between phone, cable and computer executives over how digital age entertainment and information will be delivered. "I feel like an English major in an organic chemistry course,'' said Disney Co. Chairman Michael D. Eisner.

"This isn't about programming,'' whispered HBO chief Michael Fuchs to his neighbor.

Perhaps because of its locale smack in the middle of the film and TV industry, many of the participants said they expect entertainment applications to drive the building of the information superhighway.

"Entertainment is going to be the core of every one of these opportunities,'' said Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of Walt Disney Studios. The perpetual gap between Hollywood and Silicon Valley was also in evidence.

Edward McCracken, Silicon Graphics' chief executive who flew down from San Francisco to be on a panel, met with some puzzlement when he arrived unescorted at the front door through which the common members of the audience were entering. ''I don't have a bodyguard or anything,'' he told the guard apologetically, digging out his VIP badge.

The large turnout, however, reflected the growing importance of the superhighway debate.

Gore said the Clinton administration's regulatory packages will contain provisions that encourage private investment, foster competition, and provide open and equal access to new networks. The legislation, he added, is designed to "avoid creating a society of information haves and have-nots.''

The vice president, who is spearheading the administration's telecommunications policy, urged the media leaders to wire every school, library, hospital and clinic to the information superhighway by the end of the decade.

Replied Ted Harbert, president of ABC Entertainment: "Schools can't even afford chalk, and they are talking about putting a personal computer on every desk.''

Others were more receptive.

Time Warner Chairman Gerald R. Levin said Gore's call to wire all the schools, libraries and hospitals was in fact largely a reality. "We are much of the way there already,'' he said, noting that more than 80 percent of schools within Time Warner cable systems service area were already hooked up. "We don't want to see an information aristocracy,'' he said.