Ronda Hauben on 2 Oct 2000 17:24:13 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> Al Gore and the Internet (pt2)

Part two of response to Vint Cerf's email about his and Bob Kahn's statement
about Al Gore's role in building the Internet.

They write:

>1991.  This "Gore Act" supported the National Research and Education
>Network (NREN) initiative that became one of the major vehicles for the
>spread of the Internet beyond the field of computer science.

The NREN initiative was being discussed in the early 1990's. 
It claimed it would be support for a research and education networking

That initiative somehow disappeared, and instead the NSFNET (the backbone
of the Internet in the US) was given to private interests. 

A major change in Internet policy was made without any public 
discussion of why this would be desirable. And it was done at
a time when there was officially the claim there would be support
for a research and education network.

The only public discussion that seems to have been held about
this happening was the online NTIA conference held by the 
U.S. Dept of Commerce in November 1994. During this conference
there were many people explaining why it was not appropriate to 
privatize the public US backbone to the Internet.

The official from the NTIA lauded the conference and the citizen
participation in it.

(See chapter 11 and 14 -

Somehow any trace of the development of a national research and 
education network (NREN) disappeared in the US and the Internet
development in the US was put in the hands of private entities.

There was a mailing list that several Internet pioneers and NSF
officials participated in called com-priv (commericalization and 
privatization) There were people on that list fighting over
who would get the spoils of the Internet privatization.
I later learned that ANS (a company which involved IBM and MCI which 
worked with the MERIT network in Michigan) sold their interest 
in the US NSF backbone to another company,  The person mentioned
that they got $300,000 for it.

None of this was discussed openly before the privatization.

And it basically hasn't been discussed openly since.

But public property and public policy were privatized without
any concern for the interests of the public, who indicated 
that many were opposed as they felt this would lead to 
a situation where access would be available to the wealthy and
to the business world and not to the citizens.
Also people at the NTIA online conference pointed out that the
nature of the Internet would be changed if people are being
encouraged to feel they are customers, rather than contributors
to the Net.

However, Licklider's vision was that people are users, are part
of a human-computer symbiosis or dependency, and that each partner
of this symbiosis benefits from the relationship. What happens when
one begins to treat the humans as customers and claim the ttechnology
belongs to commercial companies which they control.

What happens to the scientific roots of the Internet. What happens
to the notion of user as architecture of the developing network?

>As Vice President Gore promoted building the Internet both up and out, as
>well as releasing the Internet from the control of the government agencies
>that spawned it.  He served as the major administration proponent for

One doesn't just "release" public property out of the "control of
government agencies". 

There are supposedly safeguards for the protection of public
property and of the public interest by government.

Officials of the US government have an obligation to protect
public property.

The recent General Accounting Office (GAO) statement about
the effort of the US Dept of Commerce to transfer public property
from the US government to ICANN noted that it is unconstitutional
for the US governmnent to transfer US public property without
the proper statutory authority.

"Un the Property Clause of the Constition disposal of government
property requires statutory authority. U.S. Constitution,
Art IV, S 3, cl. 2"
To have such a big change of policy with so little public awareness
and public discussion, as the "releasing" of the public NSF backbone
of the Internet to private entities, shows the constitutional 
crisis that exists in the US at the current time.

>continued investment in advanced computing and networking and private
>sector initiatives such as Net Day. He was and is a strong proponent of

In the early 1990's there were a series of free-nets developing
around the US. These were a means of providing free access that
would be available to all.

There was discussion of the importance of some public policy that
recognized and supported such initiatives at the NTIA online conference.

It isn't that any US politician, to my knowledge, proposed the 
importance of supporting such initiatives.

One wonders about the kind of scientific advice that politicans
get in the US. And who the advisors are.

Unfortunately, it seems the advisors are from the big communications
or computer companies that will benefit from giving advice to
support "private sector" Internet development.

Shortly after the privatization of the Internet, there was a big
governnment contract that went to an communications company,
probably one of the companies that was very active having its
officials lobby for privatization of the Internet.

While scientists who get public funds seem to have a provision of 
the law that forbids them from lobbying in favor of funds for 
science, it seems that private corporate contractors have no
such constraint.

It would be good to understand better this aspect of US law,
as it seems scientists and those who might provide public officials
with advice that could serve the public interest, are constrained
in their activities, while corporate entities don't seem to have
such constraints.

While public officials in the past seemed to recognize the need
to hear from those who don't have a commercial self interest on an
issue, it seems now that in the US only those with a commercial
self interest are considered to be the "stakeholders" that need
to be heard.

This is what has become the privatization of public policy in
the US in the recent past, particularly with regard to the development
of the Internet in the US.

>extending access to the network to schools and libraries. Today,
>approximately 95% of our nation's schools are on the Internet. 

I recently went to a meeting (a "town meeting" about the Internet 
held by corporations - another example of the privatization of 
public policy in the US.) People there reported that 
there is a major campaign in NYC to have access to the net
for children in schools in return for them reading ads.

Up to now there has been an effort to keep the schools in NYC
from having ads.

The kind of access to the Internet that the US government has been
promoting is to a "commercially driven" entity where users
are put at the mercy of advertisers.

This is very far from the kind of "intellectual public utility" 
that pioneers of the early time-sharing systems envisioned for
the future of the Internet.

Had the free-nets been developed, they were a non commercial means
of providing access for students in schools. Similarly, the NSF
backbone could have been extended to link the public schools
to an education and research network.

>Gore provided much-needed political support for the speedy 
>privatization of the Internet when the time arrived for it 
>to become a commercially-driven operation.

It would seem that there was a need for public discussion and 
consideration of the public property and the public interest and 
not "much-needed political support for the speedy privatization 
of the Interenet".

And it seems that any "speedy privatization" is cause for
serious questioning of what has happened to the public interest
and public property.

Who determined that the "time arrived for it to become a 
commercial-driven operation"?

That wasn't the public assessment as demmonstrated by the 
NTIA online conference in November 1994 several months
before the privatization in May 1995.

If Al Gore was responsible for this, one wonders who was pressuring
for such a development, and why there was no effort to get
advice that would counter such pressure.

Does Al Gore also support the privatization of the essential
functions of the Internet infrastructure?

At a meeting at the Berkman Center at the JFK School of Government
at Harvard in January 2000, a staffer for Gore, Elaine Kamarck
described the importance of government to protect the kinds
of infrastructure where people's economic lives are at stake.

That in a government there are penalties for officials who
abuse their public obligations, while in a private corporate
entity like ICANN, there no such penalties.

Will Al Gore hear this kind of advice? Or are the pressures from
those who advocate on behalf of the computer or communications
corporations who benefit from "as much private as possible" too
strong to resist?

>There are many factors that have contributed to the Internet's rapid
>growth since the later 1980s, not the least of which has been political
>support for its privatization and continued support for research in
>advanced networking technology.  

In "The Net and the Netizens" written in 1992-1993, there is documentation
of how the Internet was spreading. This was not becasue of its
privatization, but to the contrary, because it was offering a general
nature communications human-computer system that was welcomed
by people around the world. And there was a continuing
effort to spread it through academic and public and community 
means. Also the Acceptible Use Policy (AUP) of the NSFNet
welcomed the links to networks to other countries as long as
those countries reciprocated in providing access to their
developing networks to those on the NSFNet.

Also the free-nets had begun to spread to other countries.

This was the kind of effort similar to that proposed by JCR Licklider 
who envisioned the challenge that the development of the network would pose
to society. He warned against putting development in the hands
of commercial entities who wouldn't understand the nature of what
was being developed.

If private entities are so capable, why didn't they develop their
own networking infrastructure and spread it.

But instead they campaigned vigorously to have the public networking
infrastructure given to them.

In the early development of the Internet, there was a desire
by the US Department of Defense to have an operational network.
And there was a research network. 

It wasn't that the US Department of Defense seized the research
network. Instead they created a separate network and linked it
to the research network. This is the kind of development that 
tcp/ip makes possible. So the early Internet was a linking 
of MILNET (the operational DoD network) with the ARPANET (the
science and research network).

Yet this isn't what was done with in the connection of private
companies to the Internet. Instead the US NSF research and education
network was turned over to the private companies.

This is the kind of development that is contrary to the nature
of an Internet, not development that scales and spreads the 

This is the kind of development that aims to replace the Internet
with a corporate commercenet.

>No one in public life has been more intellectually engaged in 
>helping to create the climate for a thriving Internet than 
>the Vice President.  Gore has been a clear champion of this
>effort, both in the councils of government and with the 
>public at large.

The climate that would create a thriving Internet is a climate
that recognized that the interests and voices of the citizens
in the US and around the world need to be part of the decision
making process regarding Internet development and policy.

That the role of the government with regard to Internet development
is a vital questions that needs to have resources and public discussion
devoted to its determination.

JCR Licklider recognized that there were socio-technical pioneers
who were developing online who were creating the kinds of new
developments that all users would benefit from. That these
socio-technical pioneers were creative users who needed protection
and support for their efforts.

The privatization of US portion of the Internet has led to the abuse
of all users. 

And the kind of new development that creative users can foster
is hamstrung and left with little or no resources for its support,
while get-rich-quick-schemes proliferate.

The vision of fostering cooperative and creative computer facilitated
human-to- human efforts to identify the important social and 
scientific questions, and extending the human-computer symbiosis to 
solve them, is lost or rarely mentioned.

If Al Gore has any understanding of this pioneering vision, it 
would be good to see some indication of it.

>The Vice President deserves credit for his early recognition of the value
>of high speed computing and communication and for his long-term and
>consistent articulation of the potential value of the Internet to American
>citizens and industry and, indeed, to the rest of the world.

But JCR Licklider's vision for the development of the Intergalactic Network
that inspired computer pioneers to develop the Internet, was not primarly
a vision for "high speed computing and communication". It was 
primarly a vision for fostering cooperative and collaborative human-to-
human communication and human-computer partnership to solve
the important social and scientific problems of our time.

It recognized the need to create a new online scientific environment.

Licklider's vision was that all have access to a network where
"intellectual amplification" would be seen as a right not a 

Licklider's vision for the development of a network was for
a general nature intellectual utility, not for a commercial shoping
mart or 500 channel tv.

Licklider recognized that industry would have its own agenda which
would be for short term purposes and its own self interest, rather
than the broader public interest.

And Licklider urged that citizens not give up on government, but
that they work to have government support the long term public 
interest in technical and scientific development.

There seems, from the statement Vint Cerf has sent around online,
little way for a presidential candidate to hear or be
able to recognize what the public interest is in technical and 
scientific development.

It doesn't seem that anyone with the ear of that candidate would
tell him about the NTIA online meeting and the fact that there
were many citizens opposed to the privatization of the NSF backbone
to the Internet.

And yet this is what the candidates need to know about.

It doesn't seem that there are scientific advisors who would
indicate that there was a support for basic research in the early
development of interactive computing and networking in the US.
(See for example: )

Don Price, in his book "Government and Science" explains the 
need for scientific advisors to the president who will provide
government with the broad spectrum of views and information.

Instead it seems that there are thosee who function as a
scientific or technical advisor to government, to narrow 
down what the government officials will know about and what they 
will be encouraged to consider in determining public policy 
regarding science and technology and important public and scientific
resources like the Internet.

This doesn't bode well for the future for whoever gets into
the presidency in the US.

The statement that Vint Cerf sent around online shows the 
narrow set of information and views that a US presidential candidate
has access to. 

Thus this presents a serious challenge for citizens around the world.

The concept of netizen, of those users who would take up such 
challenges that the development and scaling of the Internet
raise, is needed more than ever.

>22001 Loudoun County Parkway
>Building F2, Room 4115, ATTN: Vint Cerf


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