cj#694> Common Sense and Cyberspace (revisited) (resend)


Richard Moore

[I didn't get a posting in my inbox of this the first time I tried - rkm]

Dear cj,

This was written more than a year ago, but seem even more timely today, as
the consequences of the Telecom Bill have become more widely apparent.
Surprisingly few changes would be necessary to bring this treatement fully

The overthrow of CDA and progress on the strong-encryption front, at least
temporarily, bode a brighter landscape for the civil-liberties "modelling"
of cyberspace than is feared below - but this battle is by no means over,
and the principles outlined remain relevant.

This was recently published on CuDigest, which is purported to have over
300,000 readers.  (:>)



                  Common Sense and Cyberspace

                        Richard K. Moore
                         20 March 1996

NOTE:   This piece was submitted to a U.S. Senator, at the request of a
staff member.


Telecom backgrounder -- what preceded the "Reform" bill
What we had under the old Ma Bell monopoly was a vertically-
integrated marketplace, where phone-sets, local calls, long distance, and
other services, were all obtained from a single vendor.  This was not an
altogether bad arrangement: under this regime the U.S. telephone system was
the envy of the world, and offered top quality product for bottom dollar,
by global standards.

But there was a problem -- advancing technology had the potential
to support new kinds of services, but the business structure of Ma Bell was
not appropriate to exploit those opportunities effectively or aggressively.
What was needed was _competition_ to stimulate new-market development.  But
in order to enable competition, there needed to be an appropriate
restructuring of the communications industry -- the creation of one or more
"playing fields" in which market economics could be allowed to operate --
even while many phone services (eg. local loop) continued to be provided by
natural monopolies.

The result of this transformation was a brilliant new regime, even
though it seemed to dribble out as a series of distinct anti-trust actions.
The communications market was divided into a number of layers, with each
layer operating as a marketplace in its own right.  AT&T kept the long-line
layer and the long-distance business (later shared with MCI et al), while
the Baby Bells got the regional networks and the local-call business (later
to be diluted by cellular).

But this was only the beginning.  On top of these "commodity
backbone network layers" other products and services could be devised and
markets developed.  Entrepreneurs could develop gadgets to add-on to the
network (eg. modems, multiplexers, and in-house switching systems), while
other entrepreneurs could resell communications bundled with "value-added"
services such as database access, timesharing services, wirephoto
distribution, or whatever.  The telcos got no "cut" of these value-added
businesses, they just got their leased-line rentals: this is what's meant
by "layered markets".

Out of this entrepreneurial activity evolved the technologies which
enabled the Internet, and many other more special-purpose networks, both
public and private.  Just as the Ma-Bell regime served well to build up
America's basic telephone network, so the "layered marketplace" regime has
served well to pioneer and develop digital networking.

The post-Reform-bill regime - a playground for robber barons
But that's all history now -- the new Reform bill has essentially
scrapped the whole layering paradigm, and thrown us back into the kind of
laissez-faire regime that spawned the Ma Bell monopoly in the first place.
Once again, we will see monopoly domination of communications, only now
there will be several Majors (as in Oil or Television), rather than one
single dominant vendor.  And "communications" now includes so much more
than phone service -- it subsumes cable and satellite and will serve as the
primary distribution channel for films, live entertainment, news, and
whatever cyber-experiences Hollywood is able to fabricate.

As the Telecom bill wended its way toward enactment, merger-mania
swept the media industry as players positioned themselves to participate in
the anticipated feeding frenzy.  Examples:
        Westinghouse / CBS
        Disney / ABC
        GE / NBC
        Gulf+Western / Paramount
        Time-Warner / Turner

Now that the bill has passed, we're beginning to see RBOC mergers
(eg. SBC and Pacific Telesis), and we'll see many satellite, cellular, and
cable operators gobbled up by deeper pockets.

Given the Spectrum Auction, we now have a regime where monopolistic
control is possible over:
        - ownership of content
                (films, live sports, syndicated productions)
        - access to the home
                (wires, broadcast, cellular, and satellite)
        - distribution facilities
                (wire & satellite backbones)

The communications Majors will be integrated conglomerates, with
assets distributed between content and infrastructure, and they will fight
for market share a bit like airlines or television networks do today.  This
is indeed "competition", but sterile and unproductive compared to what we
had under the layered regime.

The Cyber-Baron club -- the masters of our information future --
will be the telecom companies, the cable operators, and news &
entertainment conglomerates -- together with the more general corporate
community which will be involved through cross-ownership, interlocking
directorates, advertising, and underwriting.  In other words, cyberspace
will be run by more or less the same  Corporate Establishment that runs
today's news & entertainment industries, which is why I refer to that
future environment as Cyberspace Inc.

It is abundantly clear from today's television programming what the
political landscape of Cyberspace Inc will be: corporate-slanted propaganda
in place of news, skillful promotion of laissez-faire globalist agendas,
careful management of voter perceptions re/ politicians and elections, and
the use of propagandistic entertainment to instill consumerist, pro-
corporate values.   In other words, Cyberspace Inc, besides delivering
monopolist profits to its operators, will accomplish the corporate elite's
goal of controlling the public mind and preventing the possibility of
genuine democracy.

The lost opportunity for democracy - the demise of Internet
The fact is that digital networking has the potential to connect
people in new and exciting ways, and at very low cost.  That's what the
lesson of Internet is all about.  An underlying broadband network is
relatively cheap to provide -- modern technology makes it cheaper to
provide than was standard phone service only a couple decades ago.  The
natural course of events would have been for bandwidth to become ever
cheaper, and the Internet ever more responsive.  The "digital revolution"
would have blossomed forth as a flowering of independent media productions
(community theater available state-wide?), political organizations, "town-
hall" meetings, cross-national hobby groups, etc. ad infinitum.

This "people's infrastructure" -- which is what Internet has been
rapidly becoming -- will be "cleared from the land" as the cyber developers
come to town.  The current Internet culture has as much relevance to the
media conglomerates as the Red Indians did to the U.S. Calvary and the
westward-moving real-estate interests.  This whole public-participation
phenomenon will be bundled under the heading "public access" and will be
relegated to some peripheral, politically impotent corner, like late-night
public television is currently.

Economically, Internet culture is merely irrelevant to the soon-to-
be corporate owners of cyberspace -- they don't need it, but they could
permit it and continue to support it if they wanted to.  But politically,
Internet represents a credible threat to elite corporate hegemony over the
American political process.  Internet's phenomenal recent growth was
threatening to connect _most_ U.S. households and businesses to a free-for-
all communications network which could be used for who-knows-what political
organizing, mobilizing of boycotts, and for spreading who-knows-where-
obtained information about government activities, covert operations, on-
site documentary evidence of news-event cover-ups, etc.

The threat of net-enabled, PGP-endowed, militia terrorists is a
real one, although tracking such operations is not a difficult problem for
the likes of the NSA and FBI.  But the threat of millions of citizens
communicating openly, sharing information, and creating new kinds of
political organizations and parties -- this is not a political landscape
that the corporate elite desires to tolerate, especially as public
dissatisfaction with the political status quo continues to grow apace.

Thus we can expect the screws to be tightened on Internet as the
commercial "alternative" is geared up to replace it.  Seemingly disparate
forces are converging on the Internet from all sides.  The Christian
Coalition provides the public cover for CDA censorship, while the corporate
media demonizes the net (eg. Time's Cyberporn article), the Church of
Scientology pushes the envelope of over-restrictive copyright, ACTA strikes
against the media-enhancement of Internet discourse, the FBI raids various
BBS operators, and Newt himself leads the troops for the structural Reform-
bill coup that underlies the whole nip-Internet-in-the-bud campaign.

Strategy options for politicians
The safest course for any politician is to simply go along with the
corporate steamroller, echo the lies about the Reform bill bringing
"increased competition", and queue up to receive a share of the campaign
funds available from the industry.

Only if a politician REALLY cares about the future of democracy --
and is willing to risk ridicule by colleagues and the media -- would it
make sense for him or her to take a responsible position on the nation's
communications infrastructure.

For such a rare quixotic politician, willing to do battle for
democracy, here are my thoughts regarding a regulatory/legislative agenda:

I see the central cyber issues as:
        (1) Beyond CDA: the Bill of Rights (as a whole) and

        (2) Cyber economics: the monopolist pirate raid on the wired

  re/ (1)
I believe that cyber "rights" are a consequence of how cyberspace
is "modelled".  The corporatist position, which is all but a fait accompli,
is that cyberspace is an info-distribution channel like television, and
hence has no inherent rights of access, privacy, free speech, etc. --
concerns of children etc. are supposedly central (although we all know
that's BS -- what could be more harmful to children than the television
trash they're subjected to?).

I see the "battle" as making a case that we should look at First
Class Mail as the proper precedent for private email, and Public Gatherings
as the precedent for email lists & conferences, etc.  In other words, we
should demand that our standard civil liberties be mapped onto cyberspace
appropriately.  We're not asking for new rights, simply the proper legal
interpretation of existing rights (such as they are).

  re/ (2)
I believe the so-called Reform bill is a modern Enclosures Act --
the theft of the Public Commons by greedy promoters.  And this public
commons is a grand one indeed, being essentially the central nervous system
and perceptual organs of our future society.

                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.
                             (courtesy of John Whiting)

The main problem here is that the public at large understands
neither the wonderful potential of cyberspace for "people's networking" (to
give it an inadequate moniker), nor the true consequences of the new
telecom regime.

The public is saturated with a porn-terrorist-hacker image of
Internet  -- when possibly a majority of messages sent are day-to-day
corporate and governmental inter-department mail.  And the public is told
the Reform act is only to their benefit, with promises of cyber gadgets and
virtual entertainment -- with no discussion of what a digital
infrastructure _could_ make available to them if it were open and cheap
(which the technology should, by rights, provide).

It seems to me the first step here is purely educational -- until
there's more general understanding of the real issues, it would be
pointless to attempt to rouse any sizable constituency around any actions
or agenda.

We have some natural allies in this field of battle, and ones with
significant economic self-interest involved.  These include all the small
independent operators in the communications, media, and publication
industries, together with everyone in public-sector-related businesses
(education, municipal governments, etc.).  There are also probably some
professional associations who would have an identifiable commonality of
interests, plus consumer groups and the like.

Specific legislative agenda
     1) Amend the Reform bill to re-instate layered markets,
        most particularly isolation of the transport layer
        (wires and spectrum) as a commodity infrastructure.

     2) Seek constituency-support among independent operators
        in the communications and media industries, public-
        interest groups, and the existing online community.

     3) Insure that public-interest groups, government, and
        independent operators have full and equal access
        to communications facilities, including the local
        loop and backbone infrastructure.

     4) Keep price-controls in place until and if effective,
        diverse competition actually occurs in a given market layer.

     5) Prohibit cross-subsidies of any kind between the transport
        and value-added businesses of operators.

     6) Apply the precedents of private-communications and public-
        gatherings to digital communications, and insure that
        the Bill of Rights is applied to cyberspace as regards
        privacy, freedom of expression and assembly, and protection
        against unreasonable search and seizure.


Posted by Richard K. Moore - •••@••.••• - PO Box 26   Wexford, Ireland
  Cyberlib:  ftp://ftp.iol.ie/users/rkmoore/cyberlib    |   (USA Citizen)
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