MediaFilter on Sun, 7 Jan 96 02:23 MET

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The Disappearance of Public Space on the Net


The Disappearance of Public Space on the Net

The Internet was started in the 1970's by the U.S. Defense Department
as a communications tool and is now being bought out by I.B.M., M.C.I. and
other megaCorporations.  April, 1995 marked the closing of the National
Science Foundation's part of the internet, and signaled the beginning of
the end of the publicly funded computer network infrastructure.

This race toward "privatization" is taking place behind closed doors and in
corporate boardrooms, well outside the sphere of public debate, and
threatens the very existence of free speech over electronic networks.  Just
as shopping malls are private property, where "freedom of speech" means
that the owners of the property have the right to silence those with whom
they disagree, often using their own <a
private security personnel</a> (rent-a cops), the private spaces on the
internet will follow the same model.  This is not just paranoia--there is
already historical precident to support this claim.  In 1990, Prodigy, an
online service owned jointly by Sears and IBM decided to charge haigher
rates for customers sending large volumes of email.  When users posted
notices protesting the limits on the amount of speech, and sent email to
Prodigy's online advertisers threatening boycotts, Prodigy read and
censored the messages and cancelled the users' accounts.  A spokesman for
Prodigy wrote an arrogant opinion piece in the New York (lies of our) Times
stating that the company would continue restricting speech as it saw fit,
including criticisms of the company.

The first course of action, of course, is to boycott the large corporate
net providers such as America OnLine, Compu$erve, Prodigy, E-World, and
other "shopping malls" on the net.  Support local, independent internet
providers who give real internet access and do not restrict usage.
Encourage others to cancel their accounts on the "malls" and to sign up
with independent providers or get an account thorough a university
(students and professors usually get free accounts on university servers).
Some may resist giving up the "convenience" of these services because it's
often more difficult to set up "real" internet access, and requires a bit
more time to learn how to use it effectively.  However, these should be
more reasons to boycott the megamalls, who would rather keep you
ignorant--shopping and playing games--than encourage you use your brains.

Participate in and support the growing number of independent sites on the
World wide Web.  Create sites and link to other independent sites.  Take
control of the web and create content--independent worldwide distribution
is now in our hands.  Establish a strong presence and make your voices
heard before what is left of the public space on the internet is legislated
away by the cronies of the Christian Right in government and the
multinational corporations who want to create a global "virtual megaMall."

Paul Garrin

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