Our group is examining the impact of new information resources on public policy, and visa versa. The first topic we chose is the role of governments. In the United States, the newly passed Telecommunications bill is illustrative of this issue. I am critical of this bill for many reasons.
First of all, I reject the notion that the bill will stimulate competition. The evidence seems to suggest that the result is just the opposite; a flurry of preemptive mergers has occurred. Since this bills passage, previously unlikely joint ventures have been agreed to, notable between Microsoft and MCI and between Netscape, America Online and Microsoft. Even the part of the spectrum reserved for "small companies" will in fact be occupied by large companies. A "small" company is defined as one which (for instance) has less than 500 million dollars in assets . Other loopholes allow large companies to own half, or even 3/4 of a "small" company. Instead of truly stimulating competition, the bill auctions off resources to high bidders (or in some cases gives away resources to large companies). It seems clear that only a few very large players will have a role in building, using and profiting from the nation's new information infrastructure.
This should come as no surprise, since these very companies put a lot of money into supporting the campaigns of those who supported their Telecommunications bill. Campaign finance reform groups have documented that whenever a critical phase of negotiation or voting on the bill was reached, the affected companies increased the flow of money to politicians.
Another objection I have to the bill has to with a very different topic, the constitutionality of sections dealing with abortion information and indecency on the Internet. The American Civil Liberties Union, The American Library Association and 18 other groups have obtained a stay of the indecency provisions, based upon unconstitutionally vague language. In other words, the bill is overly broad. The first amendment rights of adults should not be held hostage to the desires of some to limit free speech that might possibly offend anyone, anywhere. As far as the restrictions on abortion information are concerned, even the bills signers admit that they are unconstitutional. Enforcement is not planned. You figure it out.
Our next topic is very related, privacy and copyright issues. Again, I disagree with the Clinton administration on this topic. Of course, it could be much worse, Bob Dole could be in the White House. More on that later. For now, suffice it say that I believe that current copyright law applies to the Internet. I disagree with the copyright maximalists, who would maintain that by virtue of the medium, and not legal principles, every copy in RAM represents a licensable copy.
I also disagree with those politicians who would claim that by virtue our use of a particular medium, in this case the Internet, I somehow give up my rights to privacy. If I send a message via US Mail in an envelope, I have every right to expect it to arrive unopened. Similarly, I have every right to use an electronic envelope, in this case Pretty Good Privacy, (PGP) to make sure that my Email arrives unread. Until recently, this was a felony. It is still a felony to export PGP. If you want to learn more about PGP, click the link to my Public Key at the bottom of
Finally, we are examining the impact of new information resources on democratic elections in the US and in Nicaragua. In 1996, it is apparent that a profound impact on US politics in beginning. In Nicaragua, the indications are less clear at this point. I believe that Internet has an astounding potential to improve democracy by improving 1) unrestricted access to information in general 2) access to information about all candidates regardless of finances 3) distance independent discussions of vital issues and 4) up to the minute election information. Unfortunately in countries like China and Singapore, which restrict citizen access to publication on the Internet, the impact will be less profound. I will be exploring this topic in greater depth for my final project. For more information, please visit my home page.