geert lovink on Wed, 9 May 2001 13:46:58 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Gary Chapman's L.A. Times column, 5/3/01 -- Public Space

From: "Gary Chapman" <>
Sent: Tuesday, May 08, 2001 2:09 AM
Subject: L.A. Times column, 5/3/01 -- Public Space


Thursday, May 3, 2001

Paying for Net Foils "Public Space" Idea

By Gary Chapman

Copyright 2001, The Los Angeles Times, All Rights Reserved

There has been talk about preserving "public space" on the Internet 
since consumers began to discover the Web and e-mail six to seven 
years ago. But new developments in online business are creating a 
heightened sense of urgency because many Web-based companies are 
starting to explore "pay-per-view" or subscription-based fees to 
maximize the value of their intellectual property.

Plus, the deployment of more high-speed broadband networks is 
accompanied by trends in online content that would replace the 
diverse, expansive and largely free Web with fee-based services and 
programming that will look more like commercial TV.

So there is a campaign underway to keep some online information free 
and accessible, to ensure what Jeff Chester calls "a digital commons."

Next week he will launch an organization called the Center for 
Digital Democracy in Washington, D.C., that will fight for open 
access on telecommunications networks, especially digital cable and 
digital television broadcast.

A number of national leaders are increasingly concerned that public 
interest, educational, cultural and civic content on the Internet 
might be shoved aside, or overwhelmed, by the digital and interactive 
equivalent of "Survivor II" or the Home Shopping Network.

The challenge is not only how to keep networks open to diverse and 
free information but also how to fund interactive digital information 
that serves noncommercial purposes.

One of the most ambitious and novel ideas has come from two 
television and public policy veterans, Lawrence K. Grossman and 
Newton H. Minow. Grossman was the president of both NBC and the 
Public Broadcasting Service, and Minow is a former chairman of PBS, 
the Federal Communications Commission and the Rand Corp. On April 5, 
they announced a proposal for a new Digital Opportunity Investment 
Trust, a public agency modeled on the National Science Foundation and 
funded with $10 billion from the anticipated public auctions of 
telecommunications frequency spectrum to digital wireless companies. 
(More information is available at 
This fund would support the development of digital information and 
services for educational, cultural, artistic and civic activities, 
Grossman said. Online material is increasingly expensive to create 
and will get even more expensive as we move to broadband networks 
that can support video and high-quality audio as well as 

"The federal government has invested billions in wiring schools 
through its E-rate program," Grossman said. "We think it's time to 
turn our attention to content, which is equally important."

A similar rationale was behind a dramatic decision by officials at 
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who announced last month 
that the university will offer nearly all its Web-based courses for 
free. This decision threw other universities--many of which were 
looking to distance education as a new source of revenue--into an 
entirely different position.

Scientists concerned about the availability of scientific research, 
especially to researchers in poor countries such as Russia and India, 
recently announced a campaign to boycott any online scientific 
journals that charge a fee for accessing published research more than 
6 months old. The campaign launched by the Public Library of Science 
( has started a heated debate 
in the scientific community over who should pay for research 

There's a question, however, about whether the Bush administration 
will hear these ideas and act. The chairman of the Federal 
Communications Commission, Michael K. Powell, has publicly admitted 
that he doesn't understand the concept of the "public interest" when 
it's applied to telecommunications. That's a bad sign. Bush's 
advisors seem likely to let the market dictate how the Internet will 
evolve, and too many people in the high-tech industry have tunnel 
vision focused on future fortunes in digital services. We'll need 
more public activism and understanding about the importance of a 
"digital commons." The quality of our cultural legacy is at stake.

Gary Chapman is director of the 21st Century Project at the 
University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at

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