PPI-009-“Closing the Information Highway”


Richard Moore

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                 009-Closing the Info Highway.txt

                       * ARTICLE / ANALYSIS *

                 "Closing the Information Highway"
                  (C) Richard K. Moore 1997,1998
          As published in: "Toward Freedom", Dec 97/Jan 98

Domination of cyberspace is mission-
critical for  the masters of globalization
As Noam Chomsky 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 aren't overwhelmed by what Samuel
P. Huntington refers to as the "excesses of democracy" and what
James Madison referred to as "mob rule."

In the ongoing see-saw struggle for power, ownership of media -- to
influence opinion and ultimately government policies -- has always
been used to advantage by economic elites in democracies. Popular
movements also have made effective use of the media, from time to
time, but in today's concentrated media industry, elite control over
public opinion is, for all intents and purposes, total.  So total, in
fact, that just as a fish isn't aware of water, one sometimes forgets
how constrained the scope of public debate has become.

Even opposition to the status quo is channeled and deflected by
media emphasis, as with the US militia movements, the Perot and
Buchanan candidacies, and nationalist  movements in Europe. All
these have been used to "define" anti-globalist sentiment as
reactionary, isolationist, luddite, and racist.

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

Revision by Omission
Globalization itself exemplifies the potency of media propaganda.
The rhetoric of neoliberalism, with its "reforms" and "market forces"
and "smaller government," isn't just a "position" within the scope of
public debate. It frames debate. Politicians and government leaders
rarely question whether to embrace globalization, but compete
instead to espouse national policies accommodating it.

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

The 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, we are told that market forces and deregulation are
"modern" efficiencies, the brilliant result of state-of-the-art economic

As a consequence of this historical revision by omission, we rarely
hear that these policies have been tried before and found sorely
wanting -- that they led to economic instability, monopolized
markets, cyclical depressions, political corruption, worker
exploitation, and social depravity. Generations of reform were
required to re-introduce competition into markets, stabilize the
financial system, and institute more equitable employer/employee

In fact, regulatory regimes created 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
with nothing better to do than interfere in other people's business.
Today's "reforms" are actually the dismantlement of reforms which
moderated decades of market abuse.  Yet, old wine can be presented
in new vessels, as long as the message is repeated often enough and
facts that don't fit are never given airtime.

Image Control
The mass media is the front line of corporate globalist control. This
fact, in addition to market forces, adds extra urgency to the pace of
global media concentration. The central importance of corporate-
dominated mass media to the globalization process, and to elite
control generally, must be kept in mind in attempting to predict
the fate of Internet culture once commercial cyberspace begins to
come online.

In this regard, the treatment of cyberspace and the Internet in the
mass media over the past few years lends some portending insights.
Two quite different images are typically presented, one commercially-
oriented and the other not. The first, frequently seen in fiction or
futuristic documentaries, focuses on the excitement of cyber adventures,
the thrill of virtual reality, and the promise of myriad online enterprises.
This commercially-oriented image is given a positive spin. Suddenly every
product and organization on the block includes a www.My.Logo.com on its
packaging and advertising, in many cases with only symbolic utility.
Madison Avenue is selling cyberspace, pre-establishing a mass-market
demand for its future commercial version.

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

The infamous Time article on Cyberporn, for example, was pure
demonization propaganda, and standard  publication procedures
were surreptitiously violated in order to get it printed.
And the effect wasn't undone by the mild apologies offered later.
A recent US regulatory initiative (actually an attempt at censorship),
whose passage was assisted by that well-timed article, was fortunately
rejected by the US Supreme Court.  But the defamation campaign continues.
The relationship between cyberspace and democracy is complex indeed.
Internet culture 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 onslaught.

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 events will involve online
transactions, and 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's nervous
system. From the accounting records alone, there would be a
complete trail of almost everything one 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 govern-
ment agencies would be extremely easy. There's even the possibility
of surreptitious gathering of audio and video signals from home sets
which are thought to be "off,"  and the remote overriding of home
security systems or automobile functions. Mandatory chip-based ID
cards or implants may sound fanciful, but the number of initiatives
in those directions worldwide is cause for serious alarm.

In short, 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. Some readers may may react with "It can't
happen here."  I would ask, "What is there to stop it?"  The corporate
domination of information flows is an inherent part of the seemingly
unstoppable globalization process.

Utopia for the Few
One can think of digital cyberspace as a kind of utopian realm,
where all communication wishes can be granted. But who will run
this utopia?  Net users tend to assume we'll waltz in and use it for
our creative purposes, just as we have the Internet. But others have
designs on it as well.

We're willing to pay a few cents per hour, while complaining about
any usage charges, and our need for really high per-user bandwidth
is yet to be demonstrated. The media industry, in contrast, can bring
a huge existing traffic onto cyberspace, a traffic with much higher
value-per-transaction than email and web 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 --  passing
on its costs to consumers.

>>From a purely economic perspective, the interests of the media
industry could be expected to dominate the rules of the road. But
economic considerations may not be most decisive in setting the
rules of cyberspace. 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 is mission-critical to the
continuance of the globalization process and to elite societal control
in general.

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, signs of each of these tactics are already evident.  The US
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 copy-
right rules, which the US 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 prac-
tices 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's
supposed to lead to "increased competition."  But consolidation is
permitted both horizontally and vertically" a telco can expand its
territory, and can be sold/merged with content (media) companies.
Prices and the definition of services are to be determined by "the
market." There's also 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's no
going back, no guarantee that if competition fades regulation will be

Just as the media industry is already vertically integrated (owning its
own distribution infrastructure -- satellites, cables, and the like), so
it will seek mergers and acquisitions in the telecom industry as the
digital network gets closer to implementation.

Following awesome merger wars among huge conglomerates, a single
media-communications mega-industry, dominated by a clique of
vertically-integrated majors, is likely to emerge. Regulation
will indeed govern cyberspace but -- in accordance with the
globalist paradigm -- it will be regulation by and for the
cartel of majors.

Control of Distribution
The whole point of monopolization is to create an all-the-traffic-
will-bear marketplace. This is the market paradigm that operates
today, for example, in cinemas and video rentals.  Films compete on
the basis of consumer interest, not price. So, cyberspace majors will
compete with one another, but in content acquisition -- seeking to
have the most successful product offerings and coverage -- and in
extending their market territories.  This competition may bring
consumers ever more titillating entertainments, but the scope and
"message" of their entertainments (and information) will be limited
and molded by corporate interests.

International regulations being laid down for libel, copyright, and
pornography combine to make Internet culture ultimately untenable.
A bulletin board, for example, would not be run in open mode; in
essence, a bonded professional staff would have to filter out
submissions to avoid liability to prosecution. List owners would be
forced to become censors, verifying contributor's statements as do
newspaper editors. The open universe of today's Internet seems
destined to be marginalized, just like America's CB-radio or public-
interest broadcasting, thus completing the commercial domination of
cyberspace and the corporate domination of society.

The ability to distribute media products at reasonable rates to large
(but not quite mass) audiences translates into the ability to start up
a competing media company, with production costs as the only major
capitalization required.  This is exactly what the media cartels wish
to avoid; discouraging start-ups is what "control over distribution"
is all about. In the case of TV, scarce bandwidth translated into
expensive licenses, and the cartel was easy to maintain.

In cyberspace, the cartel can maintain its traditional distribution
control by defining services, and setting prices, in such a way that
media-distribution is artificially expensive, and becomes cost-
effective only on a massive scale, requiring massive

What do you think it will cost you to send a message to one person
in commercial cyberspace?  My guess is that the "traffic will bear"
about as much for a one-page message as a first-class letter.  This
may seem over-priced to you, but so what?  I consider my voice phone
service (and CDs) over-priced - c'est la vie in the world of monopoly
market forces.  The advertising brochure will boast, "Get your message
instantly to anyone in the world -- all for one flat rate less than a
domestic postage stamp."

At 25 cents/recipient, you can see what happens to the Internet
mailing-list phenomenon: a 500-person list carries a $125 posting fee
direct from the poster to the telco.  You can play with the numbers,
talk about receiver-pays, and point out that corporate users will
insist on affordable networking, but monopoly-controlled pricing has
the power to totally wrench the foundations out from under Internet
usage patterns.

The media-com industry will make plenty of money out of 1-1 email
messaging, and plenty more out of their own commercial products.
Whether or not they want to encourage widespread citizen networking
is entirely up to them, according to their own sovereign cost/benefit
analysis. If they don't favor it, it won't happen -- except in the same
marginalized way that HAM radio operates.

There likely will be some kind of commercial chat-room/discussion-
group industry, but monopolized by online versions of talk radio
shows, and presided over by an Oprah Winfrey Larry King -- with inset
screens for "randomly selected" guests.  "Online discussion" can thus
be turned into a new kind of media product, and its distribution eco-
nomics can be structured to favor the cartel.

The prospects surely seem dim for both democracy and cyberspace,
and cyberspace itself may be more a part of the problem than a part
of the solution.


                  "Seeking an Effective Democratic
                      Response to Globalization
                        and Corporate Power"

         - an international workshop for activist leaders -
*>--->  June 25 <incl> July 2 - 1998 - Nova Scotia - Canada

       > Organized by: Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance <

                  Restore democratic sovereignty
                  Create a sane and livable world
             Bring corporate globalization under control.

     Posted by: Richard K. Moore | PO Box 26, Wexford, Ireland
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