Pit Schultz on Wed, 1 Oct 1997 23:51:38 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Richard K. Moore: DEMOCRACY AND CYBERSPACE 1/2

[sorry about the last one, please delete, we are changing configs.. /p]

                     DEMOCRACY AND CYBERSPACE

                Copyright 1997 by Richard K. Moore
                         Wexford, Ireland

               Presented at International Conference
      "Discourse and Decision Making in the Information Age"
                      University of Teesside
                         18 September 1997
                         [Revised: 24 Sep]

Digital cyberspace: a quick tour of the future
Let's stand back for a moment from today's Internet and from the 
temporary lag in deployment of state-of-the-art digital technology.  
>From a longer perspective, certain aspects of the future cyberspace 
are plain to see.

As regards transport infrastructure - the pipes - cyberspace is 
simply the natural and inevitable integration/rationalization of the 
disparate, patched-together, special purpose networks that make up 
the nervous system of modern societies.  Besides the _public_ 
distribution systems such as terrestrial and satellite broadcast, 
cable, and telephone (cellular and otherwise), this integration will 
also extend to dedicated _private_ systems, such as handle point-of-
sale transactions, tickets and reservations, inter-bank transfers, 
CCTV surveillance, stock transfers, etc.  

The _cost savings_, _performance gains_, and _application 
flexibility_ brought by such total integration are simply too 
compelling for this integration scenario to be seriously doubted.  
Just as surely as the telegraph replaced the carrier pigeon, and the 
telephone replaced the telegraph, this integration is one bit of 
progress that is bound to happen, one way or another, sooner or 

Significant technical work is still required on the infrastructure, 
to provide efficiently and reliably such mandatory features as 
security, guaranteed bandwidth, accountability, authentication, and 
the prevention of "mail-bombs" and other Internet anomalies.  But 
these features don't require rocket science - they are more a matter 
of selecting from proven technologies and agreeing on standards, 
interconnect arrangements, and implementation schedules.  

The global digital high-bandwidth network - the hardware of 
cyberspace - will in fact be the ultimate distribution mechanism for 
the mass-media industry: it will subsume broadcast (air and cable) 
television, video-tape rentals, and perhaps even audio cd's.  These 
familiar niceties will go the way of vinyl records and punched cards.

Cyberspace will be the universal connection of the individual to the 
world at large: "transactions on the net" will  be the the way to 
access funds and accounts, make purchases and reservations, pay 
taxes, view media products (films, news, sports, entertainment, etc), 
initiate real-time calls, send and receive messages from individuals 
and groups, query traffic-congestion patterns, etc. ad infinitum.  

Each transaction will have an associated price - posted to your 
account - with some portion going to the ultimate vendor (eg, content 
provider) and some going to the various intermediaries - just as with 
credit card purchases today.

Today's Internet: democratized communications
Today's Internet is most remarkable for its cultural aspects.  
Technically, Internet is one small episode in the ever-evolving 
parade of technology, and soon to be outmoded.  But culturally - and 
economically - Internet seems to be a phenomenon nearly unprecedented 
in human history.

Internet is a non-monetized communications realm, an open global 
commons, a communications marketplace with a very special economics 
in both content and transport.

Each physical node (and its connecting hookups) is, in essence, 
donated to the network infrastructure by its operator (government 
agency, private company, university, ISP) for his own and the common 
benefit - a classic case of anarchistic mutual benefit. 

Similarly the content of Internet is a voluntary commons: anyone can 
be a publisher or can self-publish their own work.  Publications of 
all levels of quality and subject matter are available, generally for 
free.  The only costs to a user are typically fixed and moderate - 
everyone in the globe is a local call away, so to speak, and 
communication with groups is as cheap and convenient as communication 
with individuals. 

Anyone can join the global Internet co-op for a modest fee.  Internet 
brings the massification of discourse; it prototypes the 
democratization of media.  Individuals voluntarily serve as 
"intelligent agents", forwarding on items of interest to various 
groups.  Web sites bristle with links to related sites, and an almost 
infinite world of information becomes effectively accessible even by 

Netizens experience this global commons as a democratic renaissance, 
a flowering of public discourse, a finding-of-voice by millions who 
might otherwise have exemplified Thoreau's "lives of quiet 
desperation".  Like minded people can virtually gather together, 
across national boundaries and without concern for time-zones.  
Information, perhaps published in an obscure leaflet in an unknown 
corner of the world, suddenly is brought to the attention of 
thousands worldwide - based on its intrinsic interest-value.

The net is especially effective in the coordination of real-world 
organizations - enhancing group communication, reducing travel and 
meetings, and enabling more rapid decision making. 

The real-world political impact of Internet culture, up to now, is 
difficult to gauge.  Interesting and powerful ideas are discussed 
online - infinitely broader than what occurs in mass-media "public 
discourse" - but to a large extent such ideas seem buried in the net 
itself, and when the computer is turned off one wonders if it wasn't 
all just a dream, confined to the ether.  So far, there seems to be 
minimal spillover into the real world.

Ironically, at least from my perspective, it seems to be right-wing 
organizations that are making most effective political use of the net 
at present - organizing write-in campaigns, mobilizing opinion around 
focused issues, etc.  Those of us with more liberal democratic values 
seem more divided and less driven to achieving actual concrete 
results.  Present company excepted, of course.

One wonders, however, what might happen if a period of popular 
activism were to occur, such as we saw in the 1960's, the 1930's, 
1900's, 1848 , 1798, 1776, etc.  If a similar episode of unrest were 
to recur, the Internet might turn out to be a sleeping political 
giant - coordinating protests, facilitating strategy discussions, 
mobilizing massive voter turnouts, distributing reports suppressed in 
the mass media, etc.  The "people's" mass media could have awesome 
effect on the body politic, if some motivating urgency were to 
crystallize activism.

Such a scenario is not just idle imagining.  Eruptions of activism do 
in fact occur (there have been a few in Germany, France, and 
Australia recently, for example).  The net is not widespread enough 
yet to have been significant in such events (as far as I know), but 
we may be very close to critical mass in some Western countries, and 
the power of Internet for real-world group organization has been 
tested and proven.

This activist-empowerment potential of Internet is something that 
many elements of society would naturally find very threatening.  Some 
countries, such as Iran, China, and Malaysia - where "motivating 
urgency" exists in the populous - take the threat of "excess 
democracy" quite seriously, and have instituted various kinds of 
restrictive Internet policies.

I would presume - and this point will be developed a bit later - that 
awareness (in ruling circles) of the "subversive" threat from 
Internet lends considerable political support to the various net-
censorship initiatives that are underway in Western nations, and that 
such awareness may largely explain the mass-media image of Internet 
as a land of hackers, terrorists, and pedophiles.

Partly because of this potential activist "threat", and partly 
because of economic considerations, there is considerable reason to 
suspect that Internet culture will not long continue quite as we know 
it. Apart from censorship itself, chilling copyright and libel laws, 
and other measures, are in the works which can in various direct and 
indirect ways close the damper on the open Internet.  The average Joe 
Citizen, spoon-fed by the mass-media, all to often holds the opinion 
that Internet is a haven of perverts and terrorists, and thus 
Internet restrictions are not met with the same public outcry that 
would accompany, for example, newspaper censorship.

Internet offers a prototype demonstration of how cyberspace _could_ 
be applied to enhance the democratic process - to make it more open 
and participatory.  But netizens are not the only ones with their 
eyes on the cyberspace prize.  We next examine another potential 
cyberspace client - the mass-media industry.

The mass media: monopolized communications
Like the Internet, today's mass-media industry is also a global 
communications network, and also offers access to seemingly infinite 
information.  Beyond these similarities, however, the two could not 
be more different. While Internet exchange is non-economic, mass-
media increasingly is fully commercialized; while anyone can publish 
on the net, publication access to mass-media is controlled by those 
who own it; while the full spectrum of public thinking can be found 
on the net, discussion in the mass-media is narrow and systematically 
projects the world-view of its owners.

In the mass-media, rather than voluntary contributors, we have 
"content owners" and "content producers".  Instead of free mailing-
lists, web-links, and voluntary forwarding agents, we have "content 
distributors" - including broadcast networks, cable operators , 
satellite operators, cinema chains, and video rental chains.  And 
instead of an audience of participants (netizens), we have 

In both networks the information content reflects the interests of 
the owners.  With Internet this means that the content is as broad as 
society itself.  But with the mass-media, the narrow scope of content 
reflects the fact that ownership of mass-media, on a global scale, is 
increasingly coming to be concentrated in a clique of large corporate 
conglomerates.  The mass-media does not serve discourse, education, 
or democracy particularly well - it's designed instead to distribute 
corporate-approved products to "consumers", and to manage public 

The U.S. telecom and media industries have long been privatized, and 
hence the corporatized version of mass media is most thoroughly 
evolved in the U.S.  It is the U.S. model which, for the most part, 
seems destined to become the global norm - partly because the U.S. 
provides a precedent microcosm of what are becoming global conditions 
(a corporate dominated economy), and partly because the U.S. 
effectively promulgates its pro-corporate policies in international 

As state-run broadcasting systems are increasingly privatized under 
globalization it is the deep-pockets corporate media operators who 
are likely acquire them, thus propagating the U.S. media model 
globally, although U.S. operators will by no means be the only buyers 
in the market.

The U.S. model is a monopoly model - a "clique of majors" dominates 
the industry, just as the Seven-Sisters clique dominates the world 
oil market.  "The Nation" (3 June 1996) published a remarkable road-
map of the U.S. news and entertainment industry, graphically 
highlighting the collective hegemony of GE, Time-Warner, Disney-Cap-
Cities, and Westinghouse.  These majors are vertically integrated - 
they own not only production facilities and content, but also 
distribution systems - radio and television broadcast stations, 
satellites, cable systems, and cinema chains.

We might think of Time-Warner and Disney as being primarily media 
companies, but for GE and Westinghouse, media is clearly a side-line 
business.  They are into everything from nuclear power-stations and 
jet fighters, to insurance and medical equipment.  Their broadcast 
policies reflect not only the profit-motive of their media companies, 
but equally the overall interests of the owning conglomerate.  NBC is 
not likely, for example, to run an expose of GE nuclear-reactor 
safety problems or of corruption involving GE's government contracts.

When you consider the ownership of the mass-media, and the additional 
influence of corporate advertisers, it is no surprise that the 
content of mass-media - not just news but entertainment as well - 
overwhelmingly projects a world view that is friendly to corporate 
interests generally.

As globalization proceeds, these four conglomerates - along with 
Murdoch and others - will compete to buy up distribution and 
production facilities on a worldwide basis.  The clear trend, 
following a shakeout period, is toward a global mass-media industry 
dominated by a clique of TNC (transnational corporation) "majors".  
Globalization of the media industry translates ultimately into 
corporate domination of global information flows, and the centralized 
management of global public opinion.

Whereas the Internet precedent suggests the potential of cyberspace 
to connect citizens with one another on a participatory basis, a 
corporate-dominated mass-media industry sees cyberspace primarily as 
a product-distribution system and a means of opinion-control.  In 
order to assess how cyberspace will in fact  be applied, we need to 
examine the political context in  which cyberspace will evolve - we 
need to take a closer   look at this thing called "democracy".

The see-saw of democracy and the advent of globalization
Democracy has always been a see-saw struggle for control between 
citizens at large and elite economic interests.  This struggle has 
been perhaps more apparent in a country like Britain, where a 
consciously acknowledged class system long operated.  In the U.S., 
with its more egalitarian rhetoric, there has often been a tendency 
to deny the existence of such struggles and to embrace the mythology 
that popular sovereignty had been largely achieved in the "land of 
the free".

But in fact, the tension between popular and elite interests was 
anticipated by America's Founding Fathers, was articulated explicitly 
by James Madison (primary architect of the U.S. Constitution), and 
was institutionalized in that document by the balance between the 
Senate and the House of Representatives, and by numerous other means.

Under democracy, power is officially vested in the voters, and hence 
the balance of power between the elite and the people would seem to 
be overwhelmingly in favor of the people.  For their part, the 

economic elite have considerable influence due to the investments and 
credit they control - and the funds they have available to influence 
the political process in various and significant ways.

Hence the balance of power is not that easy to call, and there has in 
fact been a see-saw of power shifts over the past two centuries.  
During the late-nineteenth century "robber baron" era, for example, 
with its laissez-faire philosophy, there was a clear pre-dominance of 
elite power, with monopolized markets and widespread worker 
exploitation.  In the reform movements of the early twentieth 
century, on the other hand, with its trust-busting and regulatory 
regimes, the elite found themselves on the defensive.

In today's world of neoliberal globalization, the economic elite are 
again clearly in the ascendency.  The vehicle of elite power and 
ownership today is the modern TNC, and globalization - with its 
privatization, deregulation, lower corporate taxes, and free-trade 
policies - adds up to a radical shift of power and assets from the 
nation state (where the democratic see-saw operates) to TNC's, over 
which citizens have no significant influence - the campaigns of Ralph 
Nader, Greenpeace, et al having been systematically constrained and 

Economic policy making, which has traditionally fallen under the 
jurisdiction of sovereign nation states, is being transferred 
wholesale by various treaties to the the WTO (World Trade 
Organization), the IMF, and other faceless commissions - all of which 
are dominated overwhelmingly by the TNC community, particularly by 
that clique of TNC's which are known as the "international financial 

This transfer of economic sovereignty is most advanced in the Third 
World, where the IMF increasingly dictates economic, fiscal, and 
social policies at a micro level.  In India, for example, public 
officials often turn directly to IMF staff for policy guidance, 
leaving the Indian government out of the loop entirely.  

The trends - and the binding treaty commitments - indicate that the 
First World as well is destined to come under increasing domination 
by this TNC-run, globalist-commission regime.  Already we are 
beginning to see examples of such inroads, as U.S. policy toward Cuba 
is being challenged under NAFTA and EU beef-import policy is being 
challenged under the WTO, along with market protections for Carribean 
banana producers.  These examples are only the tip of the formidable 
globalist iceberg lying in the path of the once-sovereign Ship of 

Globalization amounts to a coup d'etat by the global economic elite.  
_Temporary_ political ascendency in the West is being systematically 
leveraged into _permanent_ global political ascendency, 
institutionalized in the network of elite-dominated commissions and 
agencies.  The see-saw game has been abandoned by the elite, and the 
citizenry find themselves down on their backs.

The democratic process may continue to govern the affairs of the 
nation state, but the power and resources of the nation state are 
being radically constrained, democracy is being rendered thereby 
irrelevant, and global power is thus being shifted from democratic 
institutions to elite institutions.  Democracy is less and less 
society's sovereign, even though public rhetoric continues as usual.  
The deliberations of the commissions go largely unreported - the 
globalist revolution, profound as it is, is mostly a stealth affair.

According to this analysis, democracy is in considerable trouble 
indeed, and by comparison the future of cyberspace would seem to be a 
secondary concern.  But the plot continues to thicken, as we proceed 
to an examination of propaganda and its institutionalized role in the 
machinery of modern democracy.

Propaganda and democracy
As Noam Chomsky so competently documents in "Manufacturing Consent", 
propaganda has always been an essential mechanism in the machinery of 
democracy, the primary means by which the elite insure that their own 
interests are not overwhelmed by what Samuel P. Huntington refers to 
as the "excesses of democracy" and what James Madison referred to as 
"mob rule".

Ownership of media, as a means to influence public opinion and 
ultimately the policies of government, has always been used to 
advantage by the economic elite in democracies - in the ongoing see-
saw struggle for power.  Popular movements have also made effective 
use of the media, from time to time, but in today's increasingly 
concentrated media industry, elite control over public opinion is for 
all intents and purposes total.  It is so total, in fact, that just 
as a fish is not aware of the water through which he swims, one 
sometimes forgets how constrained the scope of public debate has 

Madison avenue techniques applied to campaigns, including focus on 
sound-bites, turns political campaigns into little more than 
advertising episodes, much like the release of a new toothpaste or 
hairspray. This has long characterized the situation in the U.S., and 
with Blair's takeover of the Labor Party, we've seen the same 
paradigm ported to the UK.

Even opposition to the status quo is channeled and deflected by media 
emphasis, as with the militia movements (and Perot and Buchanan 
candidacies) in the U.S. and the National Front movements in UK and 
France, which are exploited so as to _define_ anti-globalist 
sentiment as being reactionary, ultra-nationalist, luddite, and 
racist; similarly environmental sentiments are regularly interpreted 
as being anti-labor, anti-prosperity, "elitist", etc.

Demonization of governments and politicians - ie, blaming government 
for the problems caused by globalism and excessive corporate 
influence - is perhaps the single most potent coup of the mind-
control media in promoting the decline of democratic institutions and 
the rise of globalism.

Globalization itself further exemplifies the potency of media 
propaganda.  The rhetoric of neoliberalism, with its "reforms" and 
"market forces" and "smaller government", is not just a _position_ 
within the scope of public debate, but has come to be the very 
_frame_ of debate.  Politicians and government leaders rarely debate 
_whether_ to embrace globalization, but compete instead to espouse 
national policies that _best accommodate_ the demands of 

As media itself is being globalized and concentrated, it is no 
surprise that globalization propaganda is one of its primary 
products.  Whether the vehicle be feature film, network news, 
advertisement, panel discussion, or sit-com, the presumption of the 
inevitability of the market-forces system and the bankruptcy of 
existing political arrangements always comes through loud and clear - 
even when the future's dark side is being portrayed.

The propagandistic success of this barrage is especially amazing in 
light of the utter bankruptcy of the neoliberal philosophy itself.  
The whole experience of the robber-baron era has simply vanished from 
public memory, in true Orwellian fashion, as we are told that market 
forces and deregulation are "modern" efficiencies, the brilliant 
result of state-of-the-art economic genius.

This historical revision by omission has the consequence that no one 
brings up the fact that these policies have been tried before and 
were found sorely wanting - that they led to economic instability, 
monopolized markets, cyclical depressions, political corruption, 
worker exploitation, and social depravity - and that generations of 
reform were required to re-introduce competition into markets, to 
stabilize the financial system, and to institute more equitable 
employer/employee relations.

The regulatory regimes that were in place before the Reagan-Thatcher 
era were there for very good reason - they adjudicated, with varying 
effectiveness, between society's desire for stability and citizen 
welfare, on the one hand, and the corporate desire for maximizing 
profits, on the other. 

These regimes implemented a generally reasonable accommodation 
between the interests of the elite and the people.  But, with the 
help of today's media propaganda, everyone now "knows" that 
regulations are nothing more than the counter-productive ego-trips of 
well or ill-meaning politico bureaucrats who have nothing better to 
do than interfere in other people's business.

Again in Orwellian fashion, today's "reforms" are in fact the 
_dismantlement_ of reforms - reforms which accomplished the 
moderation of decades of market-forces abuse.  The power of the media 
to define and interpret events, and to set the context in which 
public discussion is framed, is immense.  Old wine can be presented 
in new vessels, and black can be presented as white, as long as the 
message is repeated often enough and the facts that don't fit are 
never given airtime.

The mass media is the front line of corporate globalist control - the 
very trenches in the battle to maintain elite domination; this fact, 
in addition to market forces, adds extra urgency to the pace of 
global media concentration.  The central political importance of 
corporate-dominated mass media to the globalization process, and to 
elite control generally, must be kept in mind when attempting to 
predict the fate of Internet culture when commercial cyberspace 
begins to come online.  

In this regard, the treatment of cyberspace and Internet in the 
mass-media over the past few years lends some portending insights.  
There are two quite different images that are typically presented, 
one commercially oriented and the other not. 

The first image, frequently presented in fiction or in futuristic 
documentaries, is about the excitement of cyber adventures, the 
thrill of virtual reality, and the promise of myriad online 
enterprises.  This commercially oriented image is projected with a 
positive spin, and suddenly every product and organization on the 
block includes a www.My.Logo.com on its packaging and advertising, 
with in many cases only symbolic utility.  Madison avenue is selling 
cyberspace - but it's selling the commercial version yet to be 
implemented, it's pre-establishing a mass-market demand.

The other image, very much anchored in today's Internet technology, 
has to do with sinister hackers, wacko bomb conspirators, and luring 
pedophiles.  Those of us who use the net daily find such stories 
ludicrous and unrepresentative, but because we dismiss such stories 
we may not realize that for much of the general population, that's 
all they hear about today's Internet.

If you'll permit me a personal anecdote - but a not atypical one...  
at the bank where my girl friend works, here in rural Ireland, the 
subject of Internet came up among some of the workers.  None of them 
had ever been online, yet their unhesitating sentiment was that 
they'd never let their kids near that evil network, where they'd be 
immediately assaulted by obscene material and indecent proposals.

The infamous Time article on Cyberporn, for example, was pure 
demonization propaganda - blatantly deceptive and sensationalist - 
and standard  publication procedures were surreptitiously violated in 
order to get it printed.  But the effect of the original publication 
on the general public was in no way undone by the mild apologies that 
were later offered. 

The U.S. CDA (censorship) initiative, whose passage was assisted in 
no small measure by the well-timed article, was fortunately rejected 
by the U.S. Supreme Court.  But the defamation campaign against the 
non-economic Internet continues, in ironic contrast to the boosting 
images of its commercial future cousin (where no doubt the commercial 
pornographic offerings will in fact be equally graphic).

The relationship between cyberspace and democracy is a complex one 
indeed.  Internet culture, as the seeming prototype for future 
cyberspace experience, has enabled a renaissance of open public 
discussion - a peek at a more open democratic process.  But this 
phenomenon has been experienced by a relatively tiny minority of the 
world's population, and may in fact not survive the commercial 

On the contrary, as universal transport for mass-media products, 
cyberspace may in fact become the delivery vehicle for even more 
sophisticated manipulation of public opinion.  Rather than the 
realization of the democratic dream, cyberspace may turn out instead 
to be the ultimate Big-Brother nightmare.

In a world where most significant physical and financial events will 
involve online transactions, and in a world where backdoors are built 
into encryption algorithms and communications switches, everyone's 
every move is an open book to those who have the keys to the net 
nervous system - which would include government agents (on the basis 
of legality) as well as the operators of the system (on the basis of 
opportunity and laissez-faire non-oversight).

>From the accounting records alone, there would be a complete trail of 
almost everything anyone does, and the privacy of this information 
(from government, police, credit bureaus, advertisers, direct 
mailers, political strategists, etc.) is far from guaranteed.

Systematic massive surveillance by government agencies would be 
extremely easy, with the ability to track (undetected) purchases and 
preferences, financial transactions, physical location, persons and 
groups communicated with, and the content of communications.   There 
is even the possibility of surreptitious gathering of audio and video 
signals from home sets which are thought to be "off" (one up on 
"1984"), and the remote overriding of home security systems, 
automobile functions (windows, engine), etc.

In particular, no sizable group (such as a political organization or 
a public-interest group) could exist without having its every 
deliberation and activity being monitorable by government agencies, 
depending on how interested the authorities are in its activities.

 |       The FBI draft would take two extraordinary steps. It would  
 |   prohibit the manufacture, sale, import or distribution within  
 |   the United States of any encryption product unless it contains a  
 |   feature that would create a spare key or some other trap door  
 |   allowing "immediate" decryption of any user's messages or files  
 |   without the user's knowledge.
 |       In addition, it would require all network service providers  
 |   that offer encryption products or services to their customers to  
 |   ensure that all messages using such encryption can be  
 |   immediately decrypted without the knowledge of the customer.   
 |   This would apply to telephone companies and to online service  
 |   providers such as America Online and Prodigy.
 |                       -The Center for Democracy and Technology,
 |                        CDT POLICY POST, September 8, 1997

Mandatory chip-based ID cards or even implants may seem fanciful to 
many, but the number of government and commercial initiatives in 
those directions worldwide is cause for serious alarm.  Such devices 
would turn each citizen into an involuntary leaf node of the 
cyberspace network, his chip being remotely monitorable from who-
knows-how many scanning stations, visible or otherwise.

 |       Building on the present national photo-id card, the Korean 
 |   ID Card Project involves a chip-based ID card for every adult  
 |   member of the population.  It is to include scanned  
 |   fingerprints, and is intended to support the functions of a  
 |   multi-purpose identifier, proof of residence, a driver's  
 |   licence, and the national pension card.
 |                           - Roger Clarke,
 |                             "Chip-Based ID:  Promise and Peril"

In summary, cyberspace promises not not only to be the ultimate 
commercial delivery channel for the mass media industry, but its very 
nature provides the opportunity for the mind-control aspects of the 
mass media to be carried out with incredible precision, and with full 
feedback-knowledge of who is actually receiving which information, 
and even what they are saying to their friends about it.

Cyberspace could turn out to be the ideal instrument of power for the 
elite under globalism - giving precise scientific control over what 
gets distributed to whom on a global basis, and full monitoring of 
everything everyone does (and the accounting records are always there 
to go back and follow past trails when desired).

Some readers may find the above scenario far-fetched; they may react 
with "It can't happen here".  I would ask them "What is there to stop 
it?".  The corporate domination of societal information flows is an 
inherent part of the seemingly unstoppable globalization process.  We 
turn now from this "end view" of the scenario to an examination of 
how events are likely to unfold...

Cyberspace: whose utopia?
               The law doth punish man or woman
               That steals the goose from off the common,
               But lets the greater felon loose,
               That steals the common from the goose.
                    - Anon, 18th cent., on the enclosures.

One can think of digital cyberspace as a kind of utopian realm, where 
all communication wishes can be granted.  The question is who's going 
to be running this utopian realm?  We net users tend to assume we'll 
waltz into this utopia and use it for our creative purposes, just as 
we have Internet. But there are others who have designs on this 
utopia as well.  It is a frontier toward which more than one set of 
pioneers have their wagons ready to roll.

We're willing to pay a few cents per hour for our usage (and we 
complain of _any_ usage charges), and our need for really high per-
user bandwidth is yet to be demonstrated.  The media industry, on the 
other hand, can bring a huge existing traffic onto cyberspace - a 
traffic with much higher value-per-transaction than email and web 
hits, and a traffic that can gobble up lots of bandwidth.  We want to 
pay commodity prices for transport, while the media industry is 
willing to pay whatever it needs to - and it can pass on its costs to 

>From a purely economic perspective, the interests of the media 
industry could be expected to dominate the rules of the road in 
cyberspace - just as the well-funded land developer can always out-
bid the would-be homesteader.  Whether it be purchasing satellite 
spectrum or lobbying legislatures, deep-pockets tend to get their 

But economic considerations may not be most decisive in setting the 
rules of the cyberspace road - the political angle may be even more 
important.  Continued mass-media domination of information 
distribution systems is necessary if the media is to play its 
accustomed role as shepherd of public opinion.  This role, as we have 
seen, is mission-critical to the continuance of the globalization 
process and to elite societal control in general.

It is instructive in this regard to review the history of the radio 
industry in 1920s America...

 |       In the 20's there was a battle.  Radio was coming along,
 |   everyone knew it wasn't a marketable product like shoes. It's
 |   gonna be regulated and the question was, who was gonna get hold
 |   of it? Well, there were groups, (church groups, labor unions
 |   were extremely weak and split then, and some student groups)...
 |   who tried to organise to get radio to become a kind of a public
 |   interest phenomenon; but they were just totally smashed. I mean
 |   it was completely commercialized.         - Noam Chomsky

Other nations followed a different track (BBC et al), but this time 
around it is the U.S. model that is predominating, as we have 

The twin _drivers_ in the commercial monopolization process are 
_economic necessity_ (squashing competition from independents for 
audience attention) and _political necessity_ (maintaining  control 
over public opinion). 

The _mechanisms_ of domination include concentrated ownership of 
infrastructure, licensing bureaucracies, information property rights, 
libel laws, pricing structures, creation of artificial distribution 
scarcity, and "public interest" censorship rules.  These tactics have 
all been used and refined throughout the life of electronic media 
technology, starting with radio, and their use can be expected as 
part of the cyberspace commercialization process.  

Indeed, the first signs of each of these tactics is already becoming 
evident.  The U.S. Internet backbone has been privatized; 
consolidation of ownership is beginning in Telecom and in ISP 
services; WIPO (World Information Property Organization) is setting 
down over-restrictive global copyright rules, which the U.S. is 
embellishing with draconian criminal penalties; content restrictions 
are cropping up all over the world, boosted by ongoing anti-Internet 
propaganda; pricing is being turned over increasingly to "market 
forces" (where traditional predatory practices can operate); chilling 
libel precedents are being set; and moves are afoot to centralize 
domain-name registration, beginning what appears to be a slippery 
slide toward ISP licensing. And these are still very early days in 
the commercialization process.

Consider the U.S. Telecom Reform Bill of 1996.  Theoretically, it is 
supposed to lead to "increased competition" - but what does that 
mean?.  there is a transition period, during which a determination 
must be reached that "competition is occurring".  after that it 
becomes a more or less laissez-faire ball game, especially given the 
ongoing climate of deregulation and lack of anti-trust enforcement.  
There is no going back, no guarantee that if competition fades 
regulation will be restored.

Consolidation is permitted both horizontally and vertically - a telco 
can expand its territory, and it can be sold/merged with content 
(media) companies.  Prices and the definition of services are to be 
determined by "the market".  It is well to keep in mind that the 
Telecom Bill was pushed through by efforts of telecom and media 
majors, and well to interpret "increased competition" in that light.  
And it is well to keep in mind that the globalization process tends 
to propagate the US media model.

 |       To communications companies, then, the act has been a big 
 |   success. The U.S. commercial media system is currently 
 |   dominated by a few conglomerates -- Disney, the News 
 |   Corporation, G.E., cable giant T.C.I., Universal, Sony, Time 
 |   Warner and Viacom -- with annual media sales ranging from $7 
 |   billion to $23 billion. These giants are often major players in 
 |   broadcast TV, cable TV, film production, music production, book 
 |   publishing, magazine publishing, theme parks and retail 
 |   operations. The system has a second tier of another fifteen or

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