LIKE it or not, United States Vice-President Al Gore - he of the Superman haircut and squeaky clean image - has become a key player in the development of the telecommunications ideals lumped together under the unbelievable term Information Superhighway. In the US, Mr Gore has championed telecommunications reforms. Not since the break-up of AT&Tin the early 1980s when the regional Bell operating companies were spun off into independent companies has the industry in the US seen quite such dramatic change. The break-up of AT&T was achieved through a court decree and since then, as competitive forces began to be felt, the industry has become leaner - with whole legions of workers losing jobs - and a lot meaner. But the problem that has arisen in the US as a result of the tougher competition - and this is the area Mr Gore is most concerned about - is that the judiciary has played an inordinately big role in the seemingly ad hoc shaping of US telecommunications policy. The overall telecommunications environment appeared to be built on disputes; as telecom companies, cable companies and broadcasters slugged it out in court, the direction of telecommunications policy seemed to have been shaped by court rulings. In January, Mr Gore made a landmark speech for the US industry outlining the Clinton Administration's objective to get the courts out of the telephone business, to encourage private investment, to further open competition by allowing local phone companies, long-distance carriers and cable TV companies to play on each other's turf, and to create a flexible, liberal environment. Since then, Mr Gore has maintained a high-profile position on all telecommunications issues in the US. But last week, Mr Gore's attention switched to the global market, and in a big way too. Addressing an International Telecommunications Union (ITU) forum in Kyoto, Japan, (appropriately, Mr Gore 'travelled' to Kyoto from the White House via satellite and a videoconferencing unit) he talked about the importance of private investment and flexible government regulatory roles in the building of the - get ready, new acronym in-coming - the Global Information Infrastructure (GII). He called for the opening up of international markets to telecommunications competition so that the GII could become a reality. In doing so, Mr Gore gave a good account of himself in geography, and telecommunications policies therein, mentioning among other global developments the privatisation plans for the Pakistan Telecommunications Corporation, the 80 different privatised telecom companies in 86 regions of the Russian Federation, and greater competition made possible in the Philippines through broadening of access to international satellites. In addition, he mentioned the formation of China Unicom as a competitive network to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) network. It certainly does not hurt to have a US vice-president going in to bat for you, so the telecommunications industry worldwide should have no complaints about the attention it will be given at international political and economic forums in the coming year. According to Mr Gore, cross-border issues that affect the development of the GII will be addressed when members of APEC and the OECD gather in February. A Summit of The Americas will focus on telecommunications and information infrastructure in December. The European Union will host the G-7 ministers in Brussels, a conference that will also address common issues in developing national and global information infrastructure. It is my guess that the term information super(hype)way has had its day, to be replaced by - for what its worth - the Global Information Infrastructure (GII). And if Mr Gore has his way, you will probably hear more about it in the coming year than you ever wanted. And as an aside, it is a shame Mr Gore did not mention Hong Kong in his Kyoto address. It is an unfortunate oversight because the territory can take heart in the fact that it has an up-to-the-minute telecommunications infrastructure, an environment that is as competitive or more competitive than any country in the world, and a regulatory framework that is indeed both flexible and responsive. By the way (or BTW in Netspeak), I got the full-text of Mr Gore's Kyoto speech on Saturday night while surfing the Net, proving to myself - if no-one else - both the power and importance of the Internet. This is also one advantage of staying up late.