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Background

The Internet's origins can be traced to communications technology research sponsored by the federal government as early as the 1960s. Since then, collaboration between government, educational, and commercial interests has led to the present day Internet infrastructure.

Users access the Internet infrastructure in a variety of ways. E-mail, one of the earliest ways to access the Internet, allows people to easily send and receive text messages between computers. Another more recent way for users to access the Internet is through use of the WWW, which is credited with the explosion of Internet usage in recent years because of its "user friendly" aspect. Using software, referred to as server software, the WWW allows users to organize computer files into WWW sites consisting of "web pages." Using other software, referred to as web browser software, users can view web pages displaying text and graphics and other multimedia elements such as sound and video. A defining feature of the WWW is its use of hyper text transfer protocol (http), which allows text or images to be defined as pointers or "links." Within WWW pages, a user can select "links" that quickly and easily take the user to other pages within that site or to other sites located on computers throughout the world. Each page of a WWW site may also be accessed by its unique Internet address.

In setting up a WWW site, an organization can employ an Internet service provider for space on a computer and for the connections, which can be used to host the WWW site. Or, an organization can set up its own WWW site using its own hardware and software. In general, costs involved for setting up a site could include connections, hardware, software, personnel, training, and contractor support.

Electronic dial-up BBSs use communications software that typically allows users to send and receive text-based messages and data or program files. BBS technology was originally developed on the basis of a direct dial-up computer-to-computer connection, which does not require use of the Internet. Currently, however, many computers running BBS software--while still accessible through dial-up (non-Internet) means--can also be linked to the Internet providing an additional means of access.

OMB has responsibility for oversight of executive branch information collection and dissemination as well as information technology, which would generally include Internet-related activities. A number of laws and guidance, such as the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995,2 the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996,3 and OMB Circular A-130,4 require agency information to be made available to the public electronically. In addition, the National Performance Review (NPR) sets a clear expectation that government should take advantage of information technology to quickly deliver services to the public.5


2 Public Law 104-13, 109 Stat. 163 (1995).

3 Public Law 104-231, 110 Stat. 3048 (1996).

4 OMB Circular A-130, Management of Federal Information Resources, 61 FR 6428 (Feb. 20, 1996).

5 The NPR, under the direction of the Vice President, was a major management reform initiative by the administration and was intended to identify ways to make the government work better and cost less. The NPR's report, From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government That Works Better and Costs Less, was issued in September 1993.


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