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<nettime> The role of government in the development of the Internet
Ronda Hauben on Mon, 19 Jun 2000 00:36:53 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> The role of government in the development of the Internet


This is a response to a post on Dave Farber's IP list 

Farber raises the question of what role does government need to play
in the development of the Internet

It would be good to see some discussion of this issue on the nettime mailing
list and online in general of what is the needed government role and why.

In "IP: Washington Diary #3 -- The Facts of  Life in DC", Dave Farber 
wrote:

>This is the first in a set of diary entries addressed to the 
>important  issues facing the government, public and industry in cyberspace 
>and what I have a learned about the Government in general and the 
>regulatory bodies in specific.

>While I promised not to keep disclaiming, in this report I must emphasize 
>that this certainly is not the FCC speaking nor any of the Commissioners -- 
>just Dave Farber.

>First the FCC, The attitude at the FCC is very much to loosen regulation on 
>traditional services; to  encourage the exploration of new services on 
>established systems and to count on market forces to control competition 
>and drive prices down. Sounds great and works rather well in a competitive 
>market place -- like cellular and long distance,


Dave,

What this leaves out is that we have lost the long term basic research
that has brought us to our current situation.

There is no longer a "Bell Labs" that is required by government
obligation to support and protect researchers of the quality of
those who produced the transistor, or the theories that have
helped bring us into this period like Shannon's "A Mathematical
Theory of Communication".

Those arguing for "market forces to control competition and drive
prices down" have no understanding of the development of science
and technology as a process that depends on basic research and 
the support of science and scientists.
 
The economic theories have failed to keep up with the realities
of large scale production and the creation of new theories and 
new concepts as the crucial link in keeping prices down, because
they bring into the world something new.

The economic theories governing the FCC activities are theories
that perhaps serve certain investment interests, but they don't
serve the public or the citizens who depend on an up to date
and future looking infrastructure.

>In the Internet space, the attitude of Washington outside the Congress is 
>"we don't understand it and lets leave it alone" [  at least till they 
>understand it better :-) ]. Again it is very much , "let market forces do 
>the regulation".

In the past, for example in the 1950s, there were scientists like
von Neumann and spokespeople like James Killian who spoke up against
the bogus theories of "market forces" to do "regulation".

They made clear the need for government to support scientific 
development in the field of basic research.

>I have a big problem with this strategy. not that I like the other obvious 
>one any better -- namely regulate, My concern is centered around the 
>question of whether in a dynamic field such as the Internet where 
>technology drives it fast -- can the reliance on market forces work  to 
>avoid damaging our citizens.

Good to hear that you have recognized the problem that has already
been allowed to go on for too long.

There are those who spoke up against relying on so called "market
forces" to do what is needed to get access to all to the Internet
in 1994 at the NTIA's online conference held by the US department
of Commerce. In "Netizen: On the History and Impact of Usenet
and the Internet" we have two chapters on the conference and the
concerns raised at the time. (Chapters 11 and 14).

There is a need for a very different process to develop the Internet
and to get access to all than relying on so called "market forces".

The Internet is something new that has grown up through a new process
of development, and abandoning it to old worn out theories for its
development was recognized as a disastrous strategy in 1994 and 
has proved to be even more disastrous than was predicted.

There are many people who are very frustrated today with what is
happening in Internet development.

But more importantly, there is no longer a vision among the scientific
community to help light the path forward for the development of the 
Internet. Licklider's vision of the importance of access for all
the a participatory process where all would help to develop the 
Internet has been ignored. Any serious discussion of what this
vision suggests is needed for Internet development is absent in
both the technical community and the major press in the US.

>The center of the issue is  whether by the time you determine that there 
>has been a failure of market forces, will it be too late to correct things.

To the contrary, the center of the issue is that the kind of Internet
that so called "market forces" would develop even if they could is
not the general purpose and future oriented Internet.

It is not the Internet that would reach all and that has researchers
considering the problems that need to be solved to have the Internet
reach all with a broad form of participatory access.

The so called "market forces" see the Internet user as a passive
coach potato who they want to lure into buying this or that new
form of entertainment.

The notion of the Internet as an advanced communications infrastructure
is totally absent in the vision of those pursuing the "market forces"
dream.

The essential nature of the Internet isn't explored or understood.

That essential nature is as a general purpose human computer communications
system.

The notion of the Netizen has grown up on and as a part of the development
of the Internet.

The so called "market forces" leaves out that the Netizen is a participatory
concept, where those online participate in development the future
of the Internet, and in doing what is needed for the Internet to
be able to grow and develop.

"Netizen forces" not so called "market forces" are what are needed
for the development of an Internet.

>Counting on such slow acting forces such as regulation and anti-trust will 
>leave dead bodies and bankrupt companies and dominant players either 
>slowing innovation or controlling price/service.

The goal of Netizen force is a vibrant and general purpose ever 
developing Internet, not of some successful company.

The goal of so called "market forces" is to the development
of "companies" or "players".

These are very different goals and they produce a different future.

Already we see what the infatuation with "market forces" as the 
means of developing the Internet has led to.

We are seeing the development of big corporate entities, and 
of a media blitz about dot.coms but no support for the technical,
scientific, educational, and other general purpose nature
that the Internet promised for the future.

>A case in point is Microsoft, IF the government contention is upheld, we 
>have a case where clearly market forces did not work, where many hopeful 
>competitors are dead and where even after the proposed breakup, the 
>established customer base and startup nature of real competition will still 
>give Microsoft a big edge.

Not only did so called "market forces" not work with regard to 
the creation of other companies, more importantly, the kind
of research that Bell Labs made possible, was not part of nor
could it be part of a companies agenda.

This is the bigger problem that Microsoft represents.

The software they produce is not one to create a future oriented
infrastructure but a software to give them permanent dominance
of product from the past.

>I should have said early on I am not a trained economist. I am a scientist 
>and a entrepreneur so my terms may be incorrect in economic theory but are 
>the ideas  right?

The sadder part is that the entrepreneurial economic theory is
not scientific.

That a scientific approach to economics is not something that
those advocating "market forces" are able to apply.

Otherwise they would realize that the kind of scientific foundation
for the economy is routed in good government regulation like that
which supported the development of Bell Labs, or the kind of 
government activity that led to the creation of the Information
Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) inside of ARPA.

See for example http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/other/arpa_ipto.txt

>So what can be done.  Real hard!  I can give you a set of future scenarios 
>which would make the Robber Baron's envious.

First there needs to be some public discussion to try to determine
the public interest on this issue.

That kind of public discussion is woefully absent in the US in
the major media.

And it isn't even allowed to happen on your list Dave, unfortunately,
up to now. Opening your list up to such discussion, would be a sign
of the fact that there are not yet any answers.

In fact it isn't yet even understood what the problem is.

(This is another situation like the creation of ICANN. The problem
isn't yet understood. But already the vested interests are campaigning
for their side to make out like bandits. And so the so called
"solution" only makes the problem worse, rather than providing
any means for a solution.)


>The only way I can see out of this is for the Government to establish a set 
>of trip wires that define the boundaries of acceptable behavior. The 
>purpose of the trip wires is not to just constrain behavior but to help 
>companies not to trespass on dangerous ground. Without such understood trip 
>wires no one knows when they go to far.

The problem is that this doesn't deal with the fact that the installed
operating systems software creates a form of infrastructure of sorts, 
and as such needs to be treated as an infrastructure. That means having
a way of supporting the future research for its development, as
well as considering what form is needed to sell and distribute
that software.

>How are these trip wires articulated, not in private negotiations but in 
>very public speeches by , in the FCC case , the Commissioners and senior staff.

Your "trip wire" suggestion sounds an awful lot like "market forces"

It doesn't get to the essence of the problem.

That essence is that we need a good form of infrastructure for
software development.

It isn't that public infrastructure and the interests of different
corporate entities are the same. 

Infrastructure needs government support and protection.

That is the opposite of the corporate goal of its bottom line.

Those two goals are not synomous.

>In many ways this reminds me of Herman Kahn at the RAND Corp in his books 
>on Thinking the Unthinkable -- on Thermonuclear war. Herman was endlessly 
>criticized for daring to think of thermonuclear war. His comment was it was 
>the highest form of irresponsibility not to understand the steps involved 
>so you had an understanding of what actions would result in -- hundreds of 
>millions of dead. I believe Herman helped to stop nuclear Armageddon.

But the need was to figure out a way to make communication possible
that would stop any thoughts of nuclear war.


>The analogy in this case is there is no Herman Kahn (I am just a learner) 
>who has articulated future scenarios and established based on the analysis 
>of these scenarios,  where the trip wires are and what are reasonable 
>directions.

If you are still a learner, hopefully you will not only go to 
the vested interests to learn. The importance of government is
that it needs to determine what is a public interest, not 
what are the commercial self interests.

The voices of those who don't have a commercial interest have
to be encouraged and they need to be considered and understood.


>Example, would a duopoly that controls data access to homes control path 
>and content be acceptable? Would an equivalent of the ALLEGED behavior of 
>MS mapped over to the communications field be acceptable? What are the 
>scenarios that would allow this to happen and how realistic are they and 
>where to be put the tripwire such that we can detect problems before it is 
>too late and what do we then do.

No a duopoly wouldn't be acceptable.

But more important the fact that how to get access to a participatory
communications medium for all is the question, not access to a new
form of tv.

I suggest you read the NTIA online conference discussion from Nov 1994,
which we not only write about in Netizens, but which should also 
still be available online at the NTIA.

The kind of access that is important is not the kind of access
that either "market forces" or "trip wires" will bring to citizens.

>Boy, it was easy in the old days when progress was slow and you had time to 
>react and patch prior to a rip in the economic fabric -- not now people!!

No it has never been easy. The anti trust laws didn't come from
a time when it was easy, for sure.

But there was a vigorous press in the past so there was a public
debate that had a broad range of views. 

That is what is missing now with the corporate control of the major
media.

The NTIA online conference in 1994 showed the Internet makes
some of the needed public discussion possible when government
recognizes the need for that discussion. 

However, as in 1994 the discussion was then ignored and 6 years
later the problems that were predicted are even harder now to deal
with than they would have been then.

It is good to hear that you are raising these questions.

But will you welcome a broad discussion of them?

That will be a sign of whether or not the problems can be
successfully solved.

>In the next Diary entry -- will security issues sink the internet into 
>regulation (hint my call is yes).

>Dave


Ronda
ronda {AT} panix.com
http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/netbook/


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