Date: 01/11/1994The information superhighway or infobahn was a popular term used through the 1990s to refer to digital communication systems and the Internet telecommunications network.
The Superhighway Summit was held at UCLA’s Royce Hall on 11 January 1994. It was the “first public conference bringing together all of the major industry, government and academic leaders in the field [and] also began the national dialogue about the Information Superhighway and its implications.” The conference was organized by Richard Frank of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and Jeffrey Cole and Geoffrey Cowan, the former co-directors of UCLA’s Center for Communication Policy. It was introduced by former UCLA Chancellor, Andrea L. Rich and its keynote speaker was Vice President Al Gore.
The conference was given extensive coverage by Cynthia Lee and Linda Steiner Lee over two issues of UCLA TODAY (January 13 and 27, 1994). In the article, Gore Details Telecommunications Ideas, Lee and Lee gave an overview of the opening speech given by Vice President Gore. They commented that “Vice President Al Gore outlined the Clinton Administration’s proposals to reform the communications marketplace and challenged his audience to provide links from the so-called information superhighway to every classroom, library, hospital, and clinic in the country by the year 2000 […] ‘We have a dream for…an information superhighway that can save lives, create jobs and give every American, young and old, the chance for the best education available to anyone, anywhere,’ Gore said.” During his talk, “Ernestine” (the fictional telephone operator created by Lily Tomlin for Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In) made a surprise appearance. She complained “about the confusing and rapid transformation of communications technology. The Vice president laughingly assured Ernestine that the new technology would be simple to understand and available to all Americans.”
In the follow-up article, CEO’s Ponder Direction of Information Superhighway, Cynthia Lee stated that leaders at the conference noted that the future of the Information Superhighway was still uncertain. ” ‘Here we are, all ready to go cruising off down this new information superhighway,’ said Jeffrey Katzenberg, Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, during one of the panel discussions, ‘and we really don’t know where we are going. It’s the first time we will be moving in a certain direction when we don’t even know our final destination.’ ” Geoffrey Cowan, the former co-director of UCLA’s Center for Communication Policy, indicated that the key concept of the Information Superhighway was Interactivity or “the ability for the consumer to control it, to decide what they want to receive, and the ability of the technology to respond to highly sophisticated consumer demands.”
The participants underscored the point that the major challenge of the Information Highway would lie in access or the “gap between those who will have access to it because they can afford to equip themselves with the latest electronic devices and those who can’t.”