Net heavyweights launch Net think tank

IPI will provide data to determine the future of the new medium

Jim Barksdale, Vint Cerf and other Internet heavyweights Tuesday announced plans to create an institute to study the Internet and society.

Backers of the new Internet Policy Institute include America Online, AT&T, The Morino Institute, MCI WorldCom, Nasdaq, Network Solutions, the Potomac KnowledgeWay and The Maverick Foundation.

Kimberly Jenkins has been named president of the IPI, which will study issues ranging from privacy to the impact of the Net on health care.

"The Internet is surrounded by noise, hype, rumours, marketing, IPOs and the hopes of starry-eyed startups, but there is very little hard data on which policy makers can base critical decisions that will determine the future of the new medium and how it affects society," Barksdale, who will serve as co-chairman of the IPI, said in a release.

Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings and a board member of the Institute, said that there is too much hype in some of the research available today.

"The hype comes from companies trying to promote their causes. (There are) people with a vested interest in raising the importance of the Internet saying it's going to be 10 gazillion dollars, so people will buy their market research," she said. "We need to have research done by economists that are unbiased and have a little sense of reality."

Jenkins said that while the Institute will seek to inform political and policy leaders, it will stay away from outright lobbying. "The Policy Institute will not endorse or lobby for or against any particular piece of legislation," said board member George Vradenburg III, senior vice president of global and strategic policy at AOL. "What we find in speaking to policy makers is desire for (good unbiased research)."

The Institute has raised around $750,000 (£450,000) and hopes to bring that number to $3 million by the end of the year. It will employ between 30 and 40 researchers, some working in-house, and others doing more freelance work.

The IPI's initial project will involve an economic study of the Net's impact. The IPI will work with the Brookings Institute on the study, titled "The Economic Payoff from the Internet Revolution."

Other projects include a publication intended to brief the next president on the Internet. The Institute will prepare 13 papers over the next year to be included in the publication, "Briefing the President: What the Next President of the United States Needs to Know About the Internet and Its Transformative Impact on Society."

Wayne Clough, president of Georgia Tech, will serve as co-chair of the Institute with Barksdale. Other board members include Jenkins; Dyson; Vint Cerf, senior vice president of Internet Architecture of MCI WorldCom; Mario Morino, chairman of the Morino Institute; Erich Bloch, president of the Washington Advisory Group LLC; Toni Cook Bush, partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Michael Daniels, chairman of Network Solutions; Sherrilynne Fuller, head of the biomedical informatics division of the University of Washington School of Medicine; Bob Herbold, chief operating officer at Microsoft; Robert E. Kahn, president of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives; Roberta Katz, president of The Technology Network; Robert O. McClintock, director of the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College, Columbia University; Harris N. Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America; and Adam Clayton Powell III, vice president of technology and programs at The Freedom Forum.