Feasibility and Societal Implications

Robert H. Anderson, Tora K. Bikson, Sally Ann Law, Bridger M. Mitchell with Christopher Kedzie, Brent Keltner, Constantijn Panis, Joel Pliskin, Padmanabhan Srinagesh.

What if e-mail were as ubiquitous as telephones, TVs, and VCRs, so that literally everyone were on-line, accessible by e-mail, and able to send messages to bulletin boards, news groups, friends, family, and colleagues? Is this technically feasible? If so, at what cost? What would be the personal and societal benefits resulting from "universal access to e-mail?" In particular, in addition to possible economic benefits, could universal access help in creating a more aware and participatory democracy by aiding the formation of interest groups ("virtual communities"), access to current information, and person-to-person contacts?

This is the final report of a two-year RAND study attempting to develop some answers to the above questions. It is designed as a sourcebook on key social, technical, economic, and international issues related to providing universal access to e-mail within the United States. It is our hope that this report will help stimulate public policy discussions regarding the feasibility, desirability, and implications of universal e-mail access. Decisionmakers involved with such public policy issues are the primary audience for this report, but it should also be of interest to academic and business professionals involved with telecommunications policy and its social implications.

The study was sponsored by The Markle Foundation and has benefited greatly from the personal interest and commitment to this study by its president, Dr. Lloyd Morrisett.

The study was carried out under the auspices of RAND's Center for Information Revolution Analyses (CIRA), directed by Dr. Bryan Gabbard.

For further information on this study, please contact, Dr. Bryan Gabbard, Dr. Robert Anderson or Dr. Tora Bikson. This report is also accessible on the World Wide Web. and contains in Appendix B a description of the Blacksburg Electronic Village, as well as four other community systems.

Last updated 97/04/23