in·fra·struc·ture (nfr-strkchr) KEY
The term infrastructure has been used since 1927 to refer collectively to the roads, bridges, rail lines, and similar public works that are required for an industrial economy, or a portion of it, to function. The term also has had specific application to the permanent military installations necessary for the defense of a country. Perhaps because of the word's technical sound, people now use infrastructure to refer to any substructure or underlying system. Big corporations are said to have their own financial infrastructure of smaller businesses, for example, and political organizations to have their infrastructure of groups, committees, and admirers. The latter sense may have originated during the Vietnam War in the use of the word by military intelligence officers, whose task it was to delineate the structure of the enemy's shadowy organizations. Today we may hear that conservatism has an infrastructure of think tanks and research foundations or that terrorist organizations have an infrastructure of people sympathetic to their cause. The Usage Panel finds this extended use referring to people to be problematic, however. Seventy percent of the Panelists find it unacceptable in the sentence FBI agents fanned out to monitor a small infrastructure of persons involved with established terrorist organizations.