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Re: <nettime> L.A. Times column, 8/14/00 -- Tech Policy (pt1of2)
Ronda Hauben on 22 Aug 2000 18:45:09 -0000


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Re: <nettime> L.A. Times column, 8/14/00 -- Tech Policy (pt1of2)


(Part 1 or 2 part response)

Gary Chapman <gary.chapman {AT} mail.utexas.edu> wrote:

>Thanks to Geert Lovink for passing on to me Ronda Hauben's response, 
>on nettime, to my recent column in The Los Angeles Times about US 
>science and technology policy and the election this year.

I was a bit surprised to find your column Gary of August 14, 2000 praising
the Democratic Party program on Technology on nettime considering the fact
that the protesters in Los Angeles on the streets at the Democratic
National Convention were helping folks around the world understand that
neither the Democratics nor Republicans in the US have any interest in
what the citizens of the US need or want. That these political parties are
part of the corporate capture of the US government. And that there is a
constitutional crisis in the US government as a result of this reality. 

And the column didn't raise any of the important questions about the post
WWII science and technology policy that my research has shown need public
discussion. 

It is good, however, that Geert Lovink has encouraged a discussion of this
issue and I welcome the fact Gary has responded to what I wrote. 

>In general I agree with a lot of what Ronda has to say, as I usually 
>do, however we disagree about some things. Unfortunately, I think the 
>things we disagree with are fairly subtle and would require a very 
>long online discussion to explain. But I will offer some thoughts 
>here in response to Ronda's critique.

I am glad to hear that you agree with what I had to say, but didn't see
any indication of that agreement in either the original column nor in this
response and so felt it would be good to have it more particularly stated. 

My study of the post WWII US science and technology policy shows this is
an important area for the public, especially in the US, to know the
details of and that future science and technology policy in the will need
to be built on an understanding of what has actually happened and the
implications toward future policy of developments such as ARPA's support
for JCR Licklider's computer science program in 1962 and the lack of
support for the program JCR Licklider proposed when he returned to
government service at DARPA in 1974. 

>Ronda is absolutely correct to point out that the Clinton 
>administration has presided over the privatization of the Internet, 
>and, even more, the privatization of ALL telecommunications in the 
>United States. What was once considered a more or less public 
>resource, managed through monopoly agreements and government 
>regulation, has been turned over, without much public debate, into 
>private assets.

I had pointed out that not only had the Clinton administration led the
effort on the privatization of the Internet, but that Gore's position was
"as much private as possible" with regard to the Internet. 

And that the problem with this policy was that it was derelict in its
obligation to support the needed scientific research into what government
role with regard to the development and scaling of the Internet is needed
for the public interest to prevail. 

>However, I think given the political context of the U.S. these days, 
>and the drive towards competitive services on telecom networks, this 
>was inevitable. 

It certainly is as you say "inevitable" if there are no voices challenging
the corporate program and pressures on the US government. 

The break up of AT&T and the resulting end of Bell Labs as a premier
communications research facility in the US was not "inevitable". However,
it is obvious that the mandate of AT&T to provide the most advanced
technology so as to make it possible for there to be universal access to
phone service to all in the US (POTS) was not something that could rely on
support others in the corporate world.

They would spend their time and money trying to end such an entity, and
other sectors of the US population didn't find the means to intervene
adequately to prevent the end of Bell Labs. 

However, when a society that allows the end of such an important research
entity, it shows there is a deep problem in that society that has to be
understood and corrected. 

(Bell Labs is the entity that gave the world important technological
developments like the transistor, the laser, UNIX, C and the forefronts
research of people there like Claude Shannon and Richard Hamming and a
number of other mathematicians and scientists.) 

Also the US was able to develop and maintain a world class telephone
system because of the fact that it had such a research facility as part of
AT&T and that AT&T was under the requirements of regulation. 

The deregulation wind in the US with regard to communications and other
public utilities is in fact an evil, and there are others around the world
that agree that the deregulation of public utilities is indeed a grave
problem for the populace to find a way to reverse. 

>have cut a much better deal. I personally don't believe I would be 
>uploading this file at 384 Kbps if it were not for some modest amount 
>of competition in the telecom market in the U.S. 

How strange is this response to me. Your own personal ability is the
criteria by which you judge the public interest in a policy issue. 

And I don't consider what is going on in the US "some modest amount of
competition in the telecom market".  I see the streets in NYC where I live
being dug up to put in certain kinds of lines. These are public streets.
It isn't that there can be many different competiting lines laid in these
streets as they are being laid in what belongs to the public. Yet there is
the pretense there is so called "competition". Phone bills in my area have
skyrocketed, lines are unavailable to reach people, the pay phones are in
wretched condition, and people are having all kinds of trouble with their
Internet access. 

But even more importantly, there are whole sectors of the population for
whom such access is too expensive. And the advanced, scientific research
that looks ahead 10 or 20 years that went on at Bell Labs in the field of
communications research has been ended.

So the public interest in communications policy has been harmed by the so
called modest amounts of "competition" that you champion.  m Each person
has to negotiate their own rates with the every changing telephone
companies they have to deal with, and those rates are significantly higher
for worse service. 

I understand that there are those sectors of the population that do
benefit, such as large corporate players, but the public in the US is not
served by the breakup of AT&T and the loss of Bell Labs and of public
obligation on the corporation that supplies telephone service. 

This response is getting a bit long so I will send this as part I of the
response. In general I don't feel it is productive to give the example of
the breakup of AT&T and the ending of Bell Labs as the proof that the
public in the US has benefited from the Clinton-Gore policy of the
privatization of public policy. 

Ronda
ronda {AT} panix.com
http://www.ais.org/~ronda
http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/netbook/
(see especially chapter 9)




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