Ronda Hauben on Sun, 24 Oct 1999 22:40:53 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> The Commercial End of the Net

Frederick Noronha <> wrote:

>First, let's answer a basic question: what would a democratic process look
>like in evaluating a new communications technology? Then let's look at
>whether it's needed, given that anyone is free to set up a web site. 

>McChesney writes:

>"What would be a truly democratic manner to generate communication policy
>making? The historical record points to two basic principles which should
>be made operational. First, in view of the revolutionary nature of the new
>communication technologies, citizens should convene to study what the
>technological possibilities are and to determine what the social goals
>should be.

McChesney includes in his book a description of how indeed 
citizens did convene to study what should be the future of
the NSF backbone to the Internet in the US before it 
was privatize.  He writes(131-132):

	Curiously there was one public forum where the
   National Telecommunications Information Administration
   (NTIA) solicited opinions from Internet users on the 
   perspective privatization of the ...government-owned
   portion of the Internet backbone, scheduled for May
   1995. Taking place online from November 14 to November
   23, 1994, the "virtual" conference generated many long
   a  nd thoughtful posts objecting to commercializing the 
   Net and favoring the maintainance of government ownership
   of the backbone to guarantee public access. Many of the 
   participants demanded that there be many more public 
   hearings, with much greater publicity so many more could
   participate. "[I am] hoping that no irreversible decisions
   are made on the basis of this conferenced," one participant
   posted. "There needs to be a much wider opportunity for 
   public comment."

McChesney is quoting from the account of this public meeting
in "Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the 
Internet" by Michael Hauben and Ronda Hauben, published by
IEEE Computer Society Press, 1997.

>At this point several alternative models of ownership and
>control should be proposed, and the best model selected. In short, the
>structural basis of the communication system should be decided after the
>social aims are determined. THE KEY FACTOR IS TO EXERCISE PUBLIC
>such public participation an absurd idea? 

Public participation is built into the very development of the Internet
as is documented in "Netizens:On the History and Impact of Usenet
and the Internet". And this participatory nature of the Internet
is *not* talked about in the standard U.S. press, nor in many other
forms, though it is crucial to understand its nature when considering
how the Internet has developed and how its future needs to be
determined. In articles in Netizens, this participatory nature
of the Internet is documented.  See also

>"Second, if such a public debate determines that the communications system
>needs a significant nonprofit and noncommercial component, the dominant
>sector of the system must be nonprofit, noncommercial, and accountable to
>the public. The historical record in the United States is emphatic in this
>regard. In addition, it is arguable that commercial interests, too, must
>always be held to carefully administered public service standards.

This is interesting as it is a policy that was in a helpful way
applied to the development of AT&T and Bell Labs before the breakup.

And this resulted in both a high level of universal service and 
access for many around the US and also in research that led to 
important technological and scientific advances like the transistor,
the laser, and the Unix operating system, and support for the 
development of Usenet.

Advanced developments like Unix helped to make possible the 
programming of the 5ESS switch which involved millions of lines
of code. 

Thus though AT&T was private, it was regulated so that it was
clear of the obligations it had to have advanced science and 
technological developments that would make possible inexpensive
telephone service for all.

So the U.S has had experience with both public sector and 
private sector regulation that protects the public interest.

But the U.S. government broke up AT&T and has gone to a policy
of enriching a few nonregulated private entities at the expense
of the public interest.

>"The U.S. policy making experience with the Internet follows the
>undemocratic historical pattern prevalent since the mid-1930s. A crucial
>difference between the Internet and the previous new communication
>technologies since AM radio has been that the Internet's interactive,
>decentralized structure has not lent itself to any existing regulatory

The Internet is *not* decentralized though its basic architecture
is based on making communication possible among diverse networks.

However, the domain name system and IP system and protocols etc
require support for a public oversight over the Internet.

To say that the Internet is decentralized leads to the impression
that you don't need common standards, or that there is no
need for a system of IP numbering that recognizes the need to 
make unique numbers available. These can be handled administratively
but need some responsible public administration to make them
possible. The U.S. government is currently creating the opposite.
It is creating a private entity called ICANN to turn these public
administrative functions over to and hence to put all Internet
users at the mercy of those who are able to grab power within
this private entity.

>model, making it more difficult to know exactly how the Internet should be
>handled. This environment should have called for deliberation, study,
>experimentation, and debate; instead the door has been opened to letting
>commercial interests exploit the new medium to see where the most money
>could be made."

While I agree that public participation is of extreme importance
in determining policy for the present and future of the Internet,
it is hard to see that those who have been fighting this battle
are ignored and there seems to be the pretense that no one has
been taking up this challenge.

Netizens documents that the battle has been ongoing in many ways
both online and has even been noted in the press. (There was
an article in the Wall Street Journal in 1993 for example
noting the hostility of those online to advertisements being
sprewn about online. The article even noted that the soul
of the internet was being contested.)

It is crucial that the fight that has been waged be recognized
and supported, rather than there being articles that deny 
that there has been such a battle and claiming that 
"it is...difficult to the Internet should be handled."

If one studies and acknowledges the battle that has been 
waged online and the grassroots processes that have grown
up under government protection for the public aspects of
the Internet, and which are now being taken away, then
there will be a set of experiences and traditions to build

The conception of "netizen" grew out of the battle against
the commercialization and privatization of the Internet.
See the Preface and chapter 1 of Netizens for the origins
of the development of this concept.

>As industry lobbyists entrenched themselves, "By the late 1990s, the
>sentiment of many, perhaps most, 'Internet experts' was that the
>'government had little choice but to leave the meatiest decisions up to
>private industry.'

No the government had plenty of choice. And it still has plenty
of choice. By the fight we waged in the early 1990s we won the 
NTIA online hearing which made it possible for the public to
speak out and challenge the dogma of saying that the so
called "market" could support the development of the Internet..

The U.S. government has tried to limit or ignore the voices
of those putting forward the public interest and the need
to determine what public role is needed and what role the 
private entities can legitimately play.

But with a new scientific or technological development there
is a struggle over which sectors of society will benefit
from this new development.

It is crucial to acknowledge that there has been a struggle
for a public role and to support that struggle, *not* to
deny that it exists.

>"Although this crystallization of opinion--and utter lack of
>debate--concerning the Internet accords with the general trajectory of

It isn't helpful to claim that there is an "utter lack of debate" 
when McChesney's book documents some of the debate that did occur 
by referring to chapters 11 and 14 in Netizens.

Chapter 11 is "The NTIA Conference on the Future of the 
Net: Creating a Prototype for a Democratic Decision-Making
Process" and Chapter 14 "The Net and the Future of Politics:
The Ascendancy of the Commons".

It would be more helpful to propose that there be study
to find out what debate there was and to determine how to
build on what has been done.

>U.S. communication policy making over the past sixty-five years, it is
>nonetheless striking when one considers the origins of the Internet. All
>historians of the Internet recognize that it is a product of the public
>sector, and that it was closely associated with the military. But every
>bit as important, many, perhaps most, of the university scientists who
>designed the architecture of the Internet did so with the explicit intent
>to create an open and egalitarian communication environment. 

You may be interested in my most recent paper about the leadership
of the research community by the Information Processing Techniques
Office in the U.S. Department of Defense during the period of 
the development of time-sharing and ARPANET and Internet research
and development.

So that its not really a dicotomy between the university sector 
and the DOD as my recent paper on the development of the
interface between science and the military which resulted in
the creation of the IPTO at ARPA.

The paper is online at

The scientists who headed ARPA/IPTO encouraged the grassroots
developments and helped to give leadership to those that you
are referring to in the university community at MIT or Stanford, etc.

The university people developed the principle that an interface
had to have two sides and that those involved with using 
the developing network had to have a hand in creating the interface
that would serve their need. See for example chapter 6 in

>The Internet could never have been produced by the private sector; not only
>would the long-term wait for payoff have been unacceptable but the open
>architecture would have made no sense for a capitalist to pursue, since it
>makes 'ownership' of the Internet and profitability much more difficult."

And the private sector cannot support the long term research that
has made it possible for the Internet to grow and development, nor
that the Internet needs for its contined present and future development.

That is why the U.S. government policy that the "private sector"
should lead Internet development is a policy that fails to 
understand the nature of the Internet and its need for continued
scientific leadership and development.

In chapter 12 of Netizens we describe the meeting at Harvard
at the Kennedy School of Government attended by invitation only
to discuss the plan for privatizing the backbone of the Internet
in the U.S. The meeting was in March of 1990 and one can compare
the lack of arguments made at that meeting with the vigorous
discussion that occurred in November 1994 online NTIA sponsored
meeting. Yet the privatization was the plan that was carried out.

It is good to see some discussion online of what has happened,
and that McChesney's book again raises the issues about what
has happened and the problems with it.

However, it is important to document the efforts made to
challenge this privatization and to figure out how such efforts
can get the support and collaboration that is needed to make
them prevail.

Already the Clinton adminstration, the Kennedy School of Government
and the Internet Society all want to deny that there has
been any opposition to the privatization of the Internet and the
lack of a U.S. government policy that determines the needed
government role.

It is important that those who claim to be challenging privatization
not follow the same course and act to deny that voices have
been raised and instead work to build on the work done by those who
have been fighting this battle over a long period of time.

see also issue 9-1 and the dns supplement 
of the Amateur Computerist

                 Netizens: On the History and Impact
                     of Usenet and the Internet
             Published by the IEEE Computer Society Press
                      ISBN # 0-8186-7706-6

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