The Information SuperHighway Must Be a Two-Way Street:
The Arts & Humanities Communities Cannot be merely Consumers

Howard Besser

School of Library & Information Studies
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720
(510) 642-2231


A Presentation Proposal:
Arts & Humanities Policy Symposium for the NII

For technical reasons many designs for the "Information SuperHighway" incorporate an assymetrical balance of bandwidth (akin to a ten-lane highway going into the home and a tiny path leading back out). If models for the NII follow this kind of design, very few individuals will be able to become information producers, and most will be relegated to the role of information consumers.

These asymmetrical design features will inevitably lead to gatekeeping in the form of a limited number of sites with the facilites for outputting large volumes of bandwidth onto the "Information SuperHighway". Large studio productions are likely to be favored over independent productions, and information/programs designed for mass consumption will be favored over those perceived as having a relatively narrow appeal. This is likely to even further marginalize the arts and humanities communities.

In terms of bandwidth allocation, the model that we in the arts and humanities communities should favor is one based on the Internet (where everyone can be an information producer as well as a consumer) rather than broadcast television (where most are consumers and only a very few can be producers).

We should also consider pressing for the retention of other elements of the Internet model, such as low flat-rate fees instead of pay-per-view. The arts and humanities communities should favor this not just because of affordability concerns, but also because pay-per-view is likely to discourage the kind of interdisciplinary exploration that is critical to our communities.

Last modified: 9/11/1997