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Media heavyweights create Net policy institute

Major online companies, pundits, and educators form a nonpartisan think tank to provide hard research about the Internet and to get presidential candidates up to speed on issues facing the New Economy.

Major online companies, pundits, and educators have formed a nonpartisan think tank to provide hard research about the Internet and to get presidential candidates up to speed on critical issues facing the New Economy.

With initial funding from America Online, the Washington Post Company, Nasdaq, Network Solutions, the Morino Institute, and others, the nonprofit Internet Policy Institute hopes to pull together a $3 million budget in its first year to hire scholars and experts to produce reports on subjects including the Net's affect on privacy, traditional business, taxation, and health care.

With the Net topping candidates' agendas, and with high-tech and ".com" firms driving the economy, the institute will try to separate the hype from market realities.

"The Internet is surrounded by noise, hype, rumors, marketing, IPOs, and the hopes of starry-eyed start-ups, but there is very little hard data on which policymakers can base critical decisions that will determine the future of the new medium and how it affects society," Jim Barksdale, former Netscape Communications CEO and cochairman of the institute, said in a statement.

The institute's first project, "The Economic Payoff from the Internet Revolution," will examine the Net's affect on the growth rate of productivity, its influence on specific industries, its market barriers, and the implications of antitrust and regulatory policy. The study will be led by the Brookings Institution's Alice Rivlin, former vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve System's Board of Directors, and Robert Litan, former associate director of the Office of Management and Budget.

"The point here is simply that everybody has lots of agendas, and there is lots of information being put out by Wall Street, trying to raise stock prices," said board member Esther Dyson, chairwoman of venture capital firm EDventure Holdings.

"What we all want is an institute that will produce genuine research as opposed to opinions," added Dyson, who also is interim chairwoman of the body in charge of the Net's critical address system, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Despite its corporate backing, the institute contends that it won't be a mouthpiece for the high-tech industry.

"The policy institute will not endorse or lobby for or against any particular piece of legislation," said institute board member George Vradenburg, the senior vice president of global and strategic policy for AOL.

Kimberly Jenkins, the institute's president, said the funding sources also will be diverse.

"Our funding is from foundations, corporations, and nonprofit contributions," she said. "We are deeply committed to making this an independent research institution."

The institute's first publication will be "Briefing the President: What the Next President of the United States Needs to Know About the Internet and Its Transformative Impact on Society."

Other members of the board, who are expected to work on various papers coming out of the institute, include: cochair Wayne Clough, president of Georgia Tech; Vint Cerf, senior vice president at MCI WorldCom; Mario Morino, chairman of the Morino Institute; Erich Bloch, former director of the National Science Foundation; Michael Daniels, chairman of Network Solutions; Bob Herbold, chief operating officer of Microsoft; Roberta Katz, president of the Technology Network; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; and former White House senior adviser Ira Magaziner.