Ronda Hauben on Tue, 22 Feb 2000 01:26:28 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Who can represent the public interest regaring the Internet?

In his NYT article "Policing the Internet: Anyone but Government", 
Steve Lohr wrote:

>But when President Clinton met last week with more than two dozen 
>representatives of the Internet community, a big role for government was 
>not on the agenda. The president asked what could or should the Government 
>do. Not a lot, the Internet elite told him. The message: It's an industry 

It didn't seem there were many folks from the Internet community at
the meeting last week with President Clinton. Certainly it was 
*not* a meeting with "representatives" of the Internet community.

There was a time when the U.S. government recognized that it needed
to hear from those who did *not* have a commercial self interest
on an issue, if it was to try to figure out how to determine the 
public interest in an issue.

President Clinton doesn't seem to have any conception that this
is the case, nor does this NYT reporter.

Instead *only* those with a commercial self interest, or those
closely tied to those with the commercial self interest, are
invited to discuss issues of public concern. 

Such discussions are *not* able to determine the *public interest*
because the public interest has been excluded from the discussion
at its outset.

The meeting with President Clinton last week was *only*
to determine what those with a commercial self interest would desire.

And it was to the exclusion of any of the public's interest regarding
the Internet.

The public's interest regarding the Internet has to do with the problems
caused by the fact that those with a commercial self interest are 
being encouraged by the U.S. government to disinfranchise the 
public and its needs regarding the Internet. Those with a commercial
self interest cannot determine the public objectives nor carry
out such objectives.

The Internet is a communications infrastructure. As such it needs
the public to have a way of overseeing what happens with it,
of determining the goals of the public policy regarding it,
and of having a vision that directs its development.

Then the question of what role for the public in its development,
and what role for the private sectors needs to be explored.

This means that the academic community, federal and state and local
government, the citizens, the education and library communities,
and many others have to be involved in what in determining what 
is needed for the development of the Internet. 

Instead the Clinton administration has disinfranchised all 
but a few large commercially oriented entities who are only seeking
their own self interest in their activities regarding the development
of the Internet.

A similar problem arose in the development of the predecessor to
the Internet, in the development of the ARPANET. In the early 1970s
DARPA was asking for studies of what to do with the ARPANET,
and there were recommendations that it be given to some private
common carrier. 

However, at that time the Government Accounting Office recognized
that there would be a problem giving the ARPANET away to private
business interests. The ARPANET had been paid for by the government,
and if it were given away, the government would have to pay
again for what it had already paid for.

Instead of the ARPANET being given away to a private entity, it
was given to a government agency which took over its administration,
the Defense Communications Agency. That made it possible for 
the development of the ARPANET to continue, rather than it being
frozen to meet some narrow commecial objectives.

The Internet is a very important computer communications infrastructure.

Its future well being requires a broad vision and protection for
the public interest.

That is impossible, if the U.S. government continues to disenfranchise
the public and instead only allows for and calls for what a very
narrow sector of the U.S. population wants for the Internet, what
a few big corporate entities feel they need to increase their
commercial advantage at the expense of the users and netizens
who need to participate in determing the future of the Internet,
along with those citizens not yet online.

The Internet grew up via public direction and funding and support
for computer scientists who gave it its birth. They have all
been excluded by a US government policy that fails to understand 
either the Internet or the needs of the public.

There is a need for a change in US government policy regarding
the Internet, not for any further so meetings between the 
US President and the so called "representatives" of the Internet
community, which only include those with a commercial 
self interest in Internet development, and excludes the public
and the public interest.


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