Jay Fenello on 6 Oct 2000 02:13:23 -0000

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

At 06:45 AM 10/5/00, Roberto Verzola wrote:
>  >Internet has the capacity to become a primary infrastructure
>  >for communication during the 21st century, overtaking the
>  >telephone and absorbing the mass media. I wish it could be
>  >maintained as a neutral infrastructure - in the sense that
>  >any telephone can call any other. Even in the telephone system,
>  >there are inconsistencies with that vision (such as blocking
>  >of certain numbers in businesses that don't want employees
>  >wasting telephone time and money on 900 number services in the 
>  >US). The Internet as an infrastructure has to be supported and
>  >maintained and that costs money. At present, the best engine
>  >for achieving that is to make Internet a commercially supported
>  >vehicle. Even national governments around the world could not
>  >afford to pour into Internet the level of resources that the
>  >private sector has provided and will likely continue to provide.
>This is probably the most important debate regarding the future
>direction of the Internet: will it be a public commons, maintained by
>public funds, or private space? Today it is increasingly private
>space, both the hardware infrastructure such as communication lines,
>routers and servers, and the software infrastructure such as IP number
>assignments and the DNS.
>The way Vint Cerf describes it, there is no choice but to make it even
>more so. And the way he sounded, the debate has ended before it could
>even begin in public.
>Civil society is being seduced to move all its manifestations to the
>Internet. Take care: we are being pushed/pulled ("there is no
>choice"/"the net is great") to move from public to private grounds.
>The private owners might seem benevolent, but it is in *their*
>property where we are being asked to live our future lives. If we can
>be ejected from public spaces like the radio spectrum, how much more
>from private spaces like the Internet?
>Roberto Verzola

Hi Robert,

I'm new to this list, but joined after
seeing Vint's posting here.  

 From my perspective, civil society isn't 
being seduced, it is being systematically 
excluded!  Here's a recent article I wrote 
on this topic.



>The Promise of the Internet
>    By Jay Fenello
>       An Aligning With Purpose(sm) Column
>Over the last couple of months, I've been trying to 
>write an update about ICANN, the world's new Internet 
>Governance body.  It's not that I've had nothing to 
>say, it's just that nothing has changed -- ICANN is 
>still behaving very badly, and it is still marching 
>forward without any opposition from those in a 
>position to stop it.
>In fact, in a recent radio interview on the topic <http://www.programs.wfcr.com/pm091200.ram>, one of 
>the DJ's asked me what people could do to stop ICANN?  
>I am sorry to say, I had *no* suggestions!
>Imagine the implications of this statement.  We have
>just finished establishing the world's first Internet 
>Governance body, and it is corrupt.  Has been from day 
>one.  (It was founded through a corrupt process!)
>And there is nothing we can do about it!!!
>Truth of the matter is, ICANN exists because it was
>supported by the U.S. Government, by huge multinational
>corporations, and by the elite media.  (See comments by 
>Larry Lessig, famed legal scholar and candidate for the 
>ICANN Board <http://www.egroups.com/message/awpd/150>.)
>That ICANN exists, and that it continues to behave badly, 
>are both very troubling.  More importantly though, is what 
>these facts say about our government?  About our media?  
>About our judicial system?  If any of these institutions 
>worked as our mythology would have us believe, ICANN would 
>not be a problem today.  But ICANN does exist, and it is a 
>This transfer of regulatory authority from a sovereign
>nation to a supra-national NGO is certainly a trend 
>these days.  Consider for a moment the WTO (World Trade 
>Organization).  It operates on the same model as ICANN, 
>and is supported by the same cast of characters.  (see 
>the Harvard interview for similarities: <http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/is99/governance/fenello.html#wto>).
>But why?  Why is the U.S. Government working with 
>multinational corporations and the elite media to further 
>an agenda that is destroying our civil rights and our 
>national sovereignty in the process?
>Here's my theory:  Throughout history, there has always
>been an "upper class" who has made decisions for everyone
>else.  When this upper class has been "enlightened," the
>countries have prospered in peace and prosperity.  When
>this upper class has been "corrupted" with unlimited
>power, it has been the worst of times.
>The difference between an "enlightened" and a "corrupted" 
>upper class is often the degree of power they hold over
>their subjects, and the degree of control they hold over
>information.  (Absolute power, and all that . . .)
>Our history includes many examples of people controlling 
>information in order to control the populace.  Some examples 
>include the power of the church before the Reformation, and 
>the power of the fascist state during World War II.  In both 
>examples, the power structure depended on the control of 
>So what does this say about our current situation?  
>First, we must realize that power is fleeting, and it is
>always cycling between consolidation and dispersion.  In
>fact, since our country's birth, there have been many 
>cycles of power consolidation and dispersion.  (Consider
>the trust busting activities of Teddy Roosevelt.)
>Second, we must also realize that technology is a great 
>destabilizer of power.  (Consider how the printing press 
>helped people like Martin Luther expose the hypocrisy of 
>the church, leading to its eventual decline.)
>Finally, changes in power structures that result from
>changes in technology can not be stopped!  If the existing
>power structure recognizes that the changes are inevitable,
>they can embrace the changes and share in the new order.
>If the existing power structure holds on too tightly, the 
>changes can be violent and deadly.  (Compare how England
>and France transitioned from monarchies to modern states: 
>The English monarchy retained some power in a peaceful
>evolution, while the French monarchy was beheaded in
>a violent revolution).
>Over the last several decades, we have seen tremendous
>growth in the power and influence of the modern corporation.
>And as these corporations have grown in power, they have
>also changed the rules of the game.  What was once considered
>bribery, is now called "soft money."  And what was once a
>government by the people, for the people, now seems to be
>a government for large corporations, by large corporations.
>Consider the special gifts that large corporations receive
>from publicly financed initiatives (what Ralph Nader calls 
>"corporate welfare").  We see it in the gifting of Internet
>assets to the *right* corporations, and we see it in the
>gifting of huge blocks of radio spectrum to broadcasters).
>And consider those special gifts that help the existing
>power structure retain control, like the Telecom Act of
>1996.  Before this act, corporations had a strict limit
>on the number of media outlets they could own or control.
>After the Act, these restrictions were greatly reduced.
>Today, less than 10 media giants own or control over 80% 
>of *all* media outlets!  (That's why we see 20 minutes 
>of news covering what Elian Gonzalez had for breakfast,
>but nothing on legislation pending before Congress!!!)
>Just like the French aristocracy before it, it would 
>appear that our current establishment is desperately 
>trying to hang on to their power and control despite 
>the challenges brought about by new technologies.  
>The Promise of the Internet
>Yes, ICANN is corrupt.  Yes, it is the result of a
>corrupt process.  Yes, it continues to behave as the
>worst form of governance.  
>[In addition to multiple complaints about ICANN gaming
>it's current elections, it is also rumored that the ICANN 
>staff has been soliciting new TLD applications from some 
>of the huge corporations who funded ICANN's start.  If true 
>(and based on ICANN's prior excesses, it probably is), it 
>is a form of fraud and conspiracy designed to consciously 
>and deliberately harm the small businesses that started new 
>TLDs years ago.  See www.iperdome.com and www.webtld.com 
>for more info.]
>But there is reason for hope.  First, we are starting 
>to see some real debate over the failings of ICANN.  
>Second, despite the repeated charges of ICANN gaming
>the elections, there is an outside chance that a real
>reformer will be elected to the ICANN board.  Even so,
>there is no guarantee that a single person will be 
>able to change anything. 
>Now, some claim that anyone who works within ICANN is 
>a traitor to the cause, but I'll reserve judgement.  If 
>and when those small companies that were harmed by the 
>ICANN steamroller are acknowledged and treated fairly, 
>I'll know that the ICANN problem has been solved.
>But ultimately, changes of this magnitude require a
>new consciousness on the part of the people.  Just like 
>the printing press helped dispel the illusion presented 
>by the church, the Internet will help dispel the illusion 
>presented by our elite media.  And once the existing power 
>structure shares some of its power and control (preferably 
>voluntarily), our world will become a better place.
>That is the promise of the Internet 
>-- and the promise of our future.  
>Until next time . . .
>Jay Fenello,
>New Media Strategies
>http://www.fenello.com 678-585-9765
>Aligning with Purpose(sm) ... for a Better World
>"We are witness to the emergence of an epic struggle 
>between corporate globalization and popular democracy." 
>     -- David Korten
>Copyright (c) 2000 Jay Fenello -- All rights reserved
>Permission is hereby granted to 1) redistribute this
>column in its entirety via email, discussion lists,
>and newsgroups, and 2) publish this column in its
>entirety on non-profit web sites.
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Jay Fenello,
New Media Strategies
http://www.fenello.com  678-585-9765
Aligning with Purpose(sm) ... for a Better World
"The refusal of the ICANN junta to relinquish to others 
the institutions they claim to have built is itself the 
most damning condemnation of their work." -- Ted Byfield

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