Patrice Riemens on 21 Mar 2001 18:37:16 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Last Update on the 'Refoundation' of the Amsterdam Digital City (DDS)

Last Update on the 'Refoundation' of the Amsterdam Digital City...

Five weeks (ghosh, how time flies!....) after the roaring start made by the 'Open Domain' Association
(of users) at its inaugural General Assembly, the situation round the Amsterdam Digital City (DDS) has
become very sticky again. Given recent developments, this is not entirely surprising. Both parties
concerned, the management of DDS Holding (that is its two shareholders/owners), and the Open Domain
Association have manoeuvered in such way as to produce a stalemate, the outcome of which is both
certain and unlikely to unfold in the very short term: the final demise of what we know as the Digital
Late in January, and then again in mid-February, Joost Flint (the director/co-owner of the DDS
business) had mailed all account holders to find out whether they would be prepared to pay a fee for
the services of the hitherto free DDS. Allegedly a majority of the respondents was not averse to the
idea. This apparently convinced Joost Flint that continuing DDS as a revenue earning ISP was a viable
proposition. This made him even less inclined to 'hand over' the community part ('DDS-City Ltd.') of
the Holding to the Open Domain Association.

For a while there had been some fairly unproductive correspondance between Joost Flint (the other
partner, Chris Godel, remaining silent) and the Association. In a so-called 'terms of reference'
letter, Flint had laid out very strict conditions the association had to fulfill in order to be
considered a 'serious negotiating partner'. These included size, representability, commitment,
'professionalism', and a fairly puzzling demand that the Association would refrain from any recourse to
the courts at any stage of the negotiations - or afterwards.

Finding the carefully, if guardedly phrased response of the Association 'vague', 'dithering', or even
'disingenuous', Flint decided that he had no serious party to talk to, and that further negotiations at
this stage were without object. The association then requested him, by registered letter, to allow for
a formal exploratory meeting. A further telephonic enquiry by the Association's chair, Reinder Rustema,
yielded such a discouraging reaction that it was widely believed the talks had broken down for good.

Then Joost Flint posted (on March 15) a lengthy letter on the Association's general mailing list in
which he restated the conditions under which he would be prepared to do business with 'us'. He also for
the first time gave his point of view on the nature and history of the Digital City. This mainly
pertained to the linkages between commercial enterprise and community activities, where by the latter
are merely seen as beneficiaries (and hence dependant upon) the former. In his view, a fruitfull
collaboration  can only take the form of voluntary work and contribution of the Association within the
Digital City enterprise as it exists now. As if this 'take' was already not at variance enough with the
stated intentions (and statutory aims) of the Association, Flint also indulged in remarks describing
users of free ISPs as 'locusts', and the office bearers of the Association as  'religious leaders' and
'zealots', bend on misguiding their 'flock'.

Thus a complete stalemate has been reached, largely due to the DDS's owners stuborness in sticking to
an almost exclusively commercial business model for the community services (with voluntary
contributions seen as the icing of the, ie their, cake). But the fact that the Association still seems
utterly unable to decide where it want to go  in case a 'take-over' is unworkable (like, for instance,
now) has not been helpful either. From the very beginning there had been voices (a.o. mine) pleading
for a fresh start. Yet even the domain name itself (''), which will obviously remain 'forever'
property of the Holding because it is essential to the continuation of its business, is the object of a
spiteful retention syndrome among members and the Association's board alike.

Not all is bleak however. Working groups on various issues within the Open Domain Association have been
quietly, but efficiently busy tackling all kinds of problems, and coming up with creative solutions for
setting up a eventual  'New Digital City'. These groups, involving scores of people, may in fact be
seen as a submerged part of sorts of the Association's 'iceberg', whereas the visible top, the (now far
too, immo) vicarious discussion list possibly gives the impression of a mass drifting around in a sea
of indecision and, sometimes, divisiveness.  

A nice aside was also provided by Marleen Stikker's (The chief initiator and former 'burgomaster' of
the Digital City) e-mail interview with Geert Lovink, which appeared on the Dutch nettime list on March
7. In it, Marleen Stikker made a pressing appeal to the current owners of the DDS Holding to desist
from a narrowly commercial approach, and divest - for their own business benefit - DDS-City in favor of
a non-profit organisation. She also hinted at the substantial support such a voluntary organisation is
likely to obtain from bodies currently being set up to provide access and (high-)bandwidth for social
and cultural initiatives.

As things stand now, only time will tell, not if, but when, and in which manner, the Digital City as we
know it will fold up. Joost Flint's envisaged business model of a paying ISP is simply not viable,
since it entails irrealistic levels of disbursements, not only to flesh up the DDS's woefully
inadequate level of service, but even to set up a revenue collection environment in the first place. It
can only be hoped that when things will have run their course (and the finances of the DDS Holding
dry), the Open Domain Association will be ready, able, and willing to offer some confort and digital
asylum to the 'refugees' of what was once one of Cyberspace's most markant, and most famous places. 

(For the time being, this will be my last report on the tribulations of the Amsterdam Digital City.
Readers who are curious about the latest developments - and are unable to follow it in Dutch on the
Open Domain Association's website  - are surely welcome to contact the
Association's chair, ReindeR Rustema <>  Myself, well I am reverting somewhat more back to
the real ... reality.) 
It's spring now (even though in Amsterdam, it is snowing!), so: HAPPY NOWROOZ!

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