New for 2007: Can Democracy 2.0 Change the World?

Posted on January 21, 2007 - 10:53am.
time cover

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2006 is You. Time sees the tipping point of self-produced, online, “citizen” media as “a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before.” The magazine’s homage extols the “cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace.” Time sees the public power of the internet age as “the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.”

Time Magazine thinks that because we are using these new tools in unprecedented numbers that we have seized the “reins of the global media”, founded and framed “the new digital democracy”.

But remember: 2006 is also the same year that Comcast and Time Warner acquired Adelphia Cable—creating a “duopoly” that now serves more than 50% of the U.S. cable/ internet market. 2006 is the year that AT&T merged with Bell South to control 50% of the phone and internet lines in the US –effectively putting the humpty dumpty monopoly of Ma Bell back together again after 20 years. 2006 is the year that the telcos also moved aggressively in Congress, the states and the FCC to gain access to the most profitable video markets. The industry failed to gain new federal telecom legislation, but succeeded in many state legislatures and scored a major win to bypass local authority and public service obligation (including public access) with a favorable FCC ruling in late December.

In the same year that millions of “you” are posting content to a global network of networks, major telecom and media companies are racing to own as many of our eyeballs as possible. That’s why, in 2006, Google paid $1.6 billion for, Cisco bought Linksys for $500 million and Microsoft made massive investments in video gaming.

How is it that “you” can “seize the reins of global media when fewer and fewer companies own greater percentages of the network, more of the content and—importantly—most of the gateways that we must access to use the internet, watch tv and post this avalanche of “citizen media”?

In this environment, how do “you” turn the ability to make short videos or post blog entries into a “community of collaboration” that “wrests power from the few”?

We believe that digital democracy is only possible if “you” are transformed from consumers of message units into media activists.

• Digital democracy is possible if we insist that the airwaves and the public rights of way in which telephone and cable wires are hung are PUBLIC RESOURCES.

• Digital Democracy is possible if we tell Congress, the states, the FCC and the courts that telecommunications is a UTILITY managed locally for the public benefit—like water, gas and electricity.

• Digital Democracy is possible if we pursue new ownership structures and ensure that our networks and media outlets are owned by a DIVERSE group of owners that include municipal ownership, co-ops and innovative public-private partnerships.

• Digital Democracy is possible if we mobilize on behalf of PUBLIC INTEREST protections are strengthened—our networks remain open, service is extended to all parts of all urban and rural communities and penalties for non-compliance are enforced.

• Digital Democracy is possible if we fight for PUBLIC ACCESS to be set aside in the form of channels, applications and funds for non-commercial speech on all media and telecommunications carriers.

• Digital Democracy is possible if we are willing and able to defend the constitutional protections of FREE SPEECH and FREE PRESS—among our many other precious rights.

There is room for activism at all levels of public involvement: in our cities and towns, at the Legislature, at the FCC and in Congress. Together we can transform the power of “you” into the power of “we” and, in fact, wrest power from the few.

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