France considers the Internet for the Future

At a colloquium held last month by the French Ministry of Industry, it was full speed ahead for building an Information SuperHighway infrastructure that would guarantee a central role for France in the information economy of the next decade. With the French elections not too distant, the Information SuperHighway is being promoted as the symbol of a dynamic and healthy modern society..."and a government that is hip", according to Marsha Johnston in Computergram.

But already the French penchant for social concerns is emerging, judging from remarks made by Yves Lasfargue of the union of managers in the Confederation Francaise Democratique de Travail. According to Lasfargue, the phenomenon of US managers that are forever linked to the office by portable computer, fax or mobile phone is unacceptable. The all-pervasive nature of the Information SuperHighway makes it imperative to "negotiate the workerís right to isolation so that employees cannot be required to be available every second," he said.

While the I-way will be a boon to some, there is doubt about who is going to pay for it and who will lose out. "We need to be clear about which sectors will be in decline and which in growth as a result of the arrival of the I-way," continued Lasfargue. "The I-way is a formidable element to advance some occupations but it abstracts further the concept of work and it is easy to lose sight of reality. The information society is, above all, a society of abstraction, interactivity and fragility. As such, it has enormous potential but also some major disadvantages."

Jean Baptiste Foucauld, the French governmentís director of planning said that the negative effects of the information revolution can be mitigated by timing. "It (universal I-way service) canít be too late or too early," noting that France always has had problems making investment decisions. Some attendees expressed the opinion that, with the governmentís heavy involvement "everything will be screwed up."

While some private companies have begun to implement their own visions of the I-way, there will be a considerable delay as Franceís infrastructure relies on switched ISDN which is not suitable for advanced multimedia applications.

The French government is soliciting proposals for pilot projects and experimental applications for the I-way. The colloquium, also attended by representatives of the US and Japan, was so popular that 800 had to be turned away.