Imagine 20 years ago, being told that you could go to a city virtually anywhere in the world and receive instant cash with a wallet sized card. Not so many years ago, emergency cash on a weekend was something obtained from friends or relatives with ready money or through the graces of a check-cashing card at the local grocery store. Today, automated teller machines can provide cash across the country and around the world.
Automated teller machines have revolutionized the way we bank. Americans no longer try to fit their hours around the narrow "bankers hours" of yesteryear. And banking institutions have actually expanded their operations in response -- offering satellite banks in grocery stores, and evening and even Saturday hours. Commercial electronic shopping networks already exist; tax returns can be filed electronically. Why not online applications for loans or other financial needs that can be completed at home at one's leisure?
These are but a few examples of the many benefits electronic commerce can bring to American society. But, unless developed carefully and wisely, these benefits could carry enormous risks. To date, electronic commerce has taken place in protected networks maintained by banks or other businesses. Ensuring privacy, security, and authenticity is essential for a National Information Infrastructure.
Today's Internet is a fabulous example of what a little federal investment can stimulate. But it was designed as, and remains, a tool for research and education, an opportunity to explore what is possible and what works best. HPCC-funded gigabit testbed sites explore not only higher speed transmission of data, but how such data can best be used and shared in the real world, and how best to protect the privacy of its users. Applications such as electronic banking can benefit from these efforts.
Electronic brokering services are already demonstrating significant savings in time and money. The ARPA-funded Fast Brokering system for small purchases, for example, has proven in several pilot studies that it can operate five times faster than standard procurement procedures. When an item is needed, a data base search considers not only the lowest price, but the projected delivery date, and past performance by the suppliers, to determine the most suitable provider or providers for the item. Potential vendors are then notified electronically, or via fax or phone, and asked for price quotes and delivery dates. Currently in pilot use at some 20 military bases across the country, the system has reduced the number of days from the request for quotations to completed procurement from 96 to 20 days.
Under this system, intragovernment lines of funding are established with the broker, who then transfers the funds to the supplier upon acceptance of the delivery. New payment mechanisms, such as credit card or debit payments, will need to be integrated into the system to support the more spontaneous transactions demanded by consumers.
Consumers could receive price quotes on specific products as well as related reports on performance and customer satisfaction, and information on suppliers (such as store hours, delivery terms, warranties, length of time in business, and reports from consumer protection agencies such as the Better Business Bureau).
Electronic commerce will enable consumers to make more educated choices about their purchases, and at the same time, enable businesses and manufacturers to provide the kinds of information and products most needed by Americans.