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Want to read my writing? Check People’s Production House

In order to simplify my life and give the company that pays me the full value of my work and energy, I will now be posting to my blog on the People’s Production House website. RSS feed coming soon.

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Horizontal vs. Hub-and-Spoke Relations, or The Emperor has no Invisible Thread

Michael Maranda posted a comment recently to my testimony before the New York City Broadband Advisory Committee. He asked me to expand on one of my recommendations:

  • Promote horizontal relationships among stakeholders rather than hub-and-spoke relationships that all connect to this committee or to any one person or organization.

The original promise in Philadelphia was to tie the city together with “invisible thread.” That’s what Dianah Neff told National Geographic. It hasn’t happened.

In planning the network and passing it through City Council, Wireless Philadelphia solicited input and testimony from a variety of nonprofit organizations. All of those organizations care about the issue of Internet usage and all work with overlapping constituencies. Yet Wireless Philadelphia did not take any steps to foster relationships among them that would encourage synergistic collaborations.

Instead, WP is forming “Wireless Internet Partnerships” or WIPs, a series of one-one-one relationships between Wireless Philadelphia and individual organizations. I am not aware of any plans to connect these WIPs to each other so the groups can form their own partnerships. At best, maybe we’ll see a WIP cocktail hour.

Ideally, the horizontal relationships would extend beyond the organizational level. I’d like to see local conventions where all of the users of the network could gather, and the people who make up these nonprofits’ constituencies could get to know each other. I think these municipal wireless projects will benefit by emphasizing their local-ness and I think the users/local residents will benefit from having stronger social bonds.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Wireless Philadelphia or Earthlink want their customers to have the capacity for collective action or self-management. Not surprising for a for-profit company with meager customer service. But the nonprofit should be trying to build community, not disempower users.

The problem for Wireless Philadelphia is that the only reason for them to exist is to mediate the relationships between the City and Earthlink, Earthlink and the poor residents of Philadelphia, and the WIPs and Earthlink. If all of those entities could relate directly to each other, they’d quickly realize there is no reason for WP to exist.

I think the system in Minneapolis, where the Minneapolis Digital Inclusion Fund Advisory Committee has just released it’s RFP, is better, but not perfect. There, the people that pushed for digital inclusion funding organized themselves, though the efforts were soon co-opted into an official “Task Force.” The result is a community-advised fund at the Minneapolis Foundation, funded primarily through a revenue-sharing agreement with US Internet, the local network operator.

The participants in that Advisory Committee have horizontal relationships with each other instead of all having separate relationships with a new nonprofit, as in Philadelphia. However, I can’t find any list of the members of the committee online (though I know Peter Fleck is one because he’s blogged about it). That makes me concerned that those relationships won’t grow beyond the Committee’s boundaries.

If they want to push that network further, they are going to be swimming upstream. The process of soliciting grant applications from 501(c)3 organizations is notorious for pitting groups against one another and creating secretive one-to-one relationships between applicants and funders.

Minniapolis Digital Inclusion Advisory Committee should consider setting up something like GiveMeaning.com – not to let people vote for recipients of the Committee’s funds, but to promote awareness of the broad variety of initiatives people in the city are doing and to give those initiatives an avenue to raise additional funds.

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Further restrictions on soldiers’ Internet usage

Starting today, the Department of Defense will begin blocking soldiers from accessing some of the most popular websites on the Internet, including YouTube and MySpace.

The increasing use of such sites compromises the security of the DoD’s unclassified Internet known as NIPRNET, according to a newsletter put out by the Commander of US Forces in Korea. The newsletter also warns soldiers to be alert against identity theft and the sharing of sensitive information.

The website blocking comes less than two weeks after the military imposed new restrictions on soldiers’ blogging.

The May 11 “Bell Sends” newsletter from Commander B.B. Bell describing the new restrictions says,

To maximize the availability of DoD network resources for official government usage, the Commander, JTF-GNO, [Joint Task Force, Global Network Operations] with the approval of the Department of Defense, will block worldwide access to the following internet sites beginning on or about 14 May 2007: youtube.com, 1.fm, pandora.com, photobucket.com, myspace.com, live365.com, hi5.com, metacafe.com, mtv.com, ifilm,com, blackplanet.com, stupidvideos.com, filecabi.com”

(You can see the full newsletter from this website here or from the original military website here. From what I gather, this journalist broke the story.)

The banned websites all promote online interaction based on the sharing of photos, videos, music, musical tastes, or personal information. Some, like MySpace offer the opportunity for soldiers to blog their experiences. The Pentagon operates a channel on YouTube.

Last year, the then-Republican House of Representatives passed legislation that would bar access to such sites for minors using government-funded Internet access, for example in schools or libraries. The “Deleting Online Predators Act” (DOPA) died in the Senate.

The bill would have forced libraries and schools to bar minors from accessing any websites or chatrooms where they “may easily access or be presented with obscene or indecent material; may easily be subject to unlawful sexual advances, unlawful requests for sexual favors, or repeated offensive comments of a sexual nature from adults; or may easily access other material that is harmful to minors.”

I’m with Seth Johnson and the Dynamic Platform Standards
Project
on this one, that you can’t block such sites and still honestly call it the Internet.

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Hot new group blog from Southeast Michigan

Back in January, I described the blog explosion coming out of Southeast Michigan. Now the region’s social justice newspaper, Critical Moment, has launched a new group blog syndicating local, radical blogs.

Check out, bookmark, and alert others to Critical Bloggers.

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New Venue for March 30 Broadband Advisory Committee hearing

The New York City Broadband Advisory Committee that we discussed in the New York’s Wireless Future panel is holding its first public hearing in the Bronx on Friday, March 30.

There has been a change in venue: The March 30th public hearing will now be held in the Gould Memorial Library Auditorium on the campus of Bronx Community College, University Ave. at W. 181st Street, from 10 am to Noon. (Get directions.)

The room holds something like 500 people. They’re expecting at least 200. Council Member Gale Brewer’s office (she’s the prime mover behind the BAC) is distributing a flyer, available as a pdf download. They’ve also set up a blog.

In order to promote awareness of the Committee and the hearing and to spark imagination of what that future could look like, Wakeup Call is producing a series on municipal broadband. Listen to me preview the series on this past Monday’s show.

That radio appearance finally motivated me to start up a podcast, which will include the entire series as well as the hearing. You can subscribe to the podcast here. And you can find the audio files in the sidebar of the blog.
Here is the list of BAC members, the first of which were appointed by the City Council while the second batch was appointed by the Mayor.

Council appointees:

  • David Birdsell, Dean, Baruch College Graduate School of Public Affairs, City University of New York
  • Neil Pariser, Senior Vice President, South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SoBRO)
  • Andrew Rasiej, Founder of Personal Democracy Forum and MOUSE
  • Jose Rodriguez, President and Founder, Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network (HITN)
  • Elisabeth Stock, President and Co-Founder, Computers for Youth (CFY)
  • Nicholas Thompson, Senior Editor, WIRED Magazine
  • David Wicks, Founding Partner, Alwyn Group, Former Cablevision executive

Mayoral appointees:

  • Mitchel Ahlbaum, General Counsel and Deputy Commissioner for Telecommunications Services, New York City Department of Information Technologies and Telecommunications (DoITT)
  • Shaun M. Belle, President and CEO, Mount Hope Housing Company
  • Thomas Dunne, Vice President of Public Affairs, Policy and Communications, Verizon New York
  • Avi Duvdevani, Chief Information Officer / Deputy General Manager, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)
  • John J. Gilbert III, Executive Vice President / Chief Operating Officer, Rudin Management Company
  • Wendy Lader, Vice President Telecommunications Policy, New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC)
  • Howard Szarfarc, President, Time Warner Cable of New York and New Jersey
  • Anthony Townsend, Research Director, Institute for the Future

I’ll have more commentary on the makeup of the BAC in the near future, but it’s obviously a mixed bag with a lot of people heavily invested in the status quo. That doesn’t mean we should boycott it, but it does mean that we have to be clear that it cannot be the final arbiter of our communications future.

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Democratizing the Beltway talk shows

In media reform as in most political endeavors, direct action gets the goods. You don’t like the questions the corporate media are asking the decisionmakers? Ask ’em your own questions.

The big news in the DC news biz every week is who will be appearing on the Sunday talk shows – Face The Nation (CBS), This Week (ABC), and Meet The Press (NBC). Those shows send out a press release with the lineups every Thursday.

Competing news agencies send interns or other rookies to sit outside of the corporate media studios in case the guests want to make any statements after the interview. There’s a microphone stand set up outside; sometimes the guests stop there on their way out of the interview and take some questions.

Those other news agencies don’t send more seasoned reporters because they don’t expect to get any of what they consider useful footage there. Also, this all takes place on a Sunday morning when many of their employees would rather be in bed.

A couple of months ago, some enterprising media activists joined the post-talk show gaggle in order to ask the questions no one else is asking. The project is called The Washington Stakeout and is the work of DC Indymedia veterans and Sam Husseini, best known for his work with the Insititute for Public Accuracy.

If you check the site, you can see the Stakeout asking questions about Israel’s nuclear weapons of John Edwards and about pre-Iraq war intelligence of Colin Powell.

Washington DC is basically a series of concentric boxes, each one designed to keep you from thinking outside of its borders. It’s refreshing to see this kind of imaginative yet straightforward media activism in this town.

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Reflections on the National Conference for Media Reform

WireTap graciously accepted an article I wrote about the National Conference for Media Reform. In it, I survey the relationships between Free Press and some of the groups that have been marginalized at past conferences. This year’s conference was different. Sort of.

I also recommend reading DeeDee Halleck’s assessment:

To achieve media justice we need to raise our level of commitment. Next Media “Reform” Conference needs to speak of strategies that go beyond internet petitions to Congress. An authentic movement needs to march and to encourage the sort of non-violent civil disobedience that helped to open the airwaves for low power FM.

DeeDee’s labels and mine – who or what is media justice or media democracy – don’t exactly match up. This might be because she is discussing the history of the movement up to early 2003, where I cover the media reform conferences that started in November 2003.Perhaps the divisions I describe came about later, after Indymedia simplified the path to one type of media organizing and Free Press co-opted the grassroots energy that fought off media ownership deregulation.

Under the heading “Media Justice History,” DeeDee describes a multiracial network of organizers using civil disobedience and direct action to fight corporate media, resisting pressure from reformist white men to use more mundane tactics.

There are important successes to learn there, ones I admit I am still fairly ignorant of. (I wasn’t even doing the movies on a roof in Brooklyn thing when they were “marching against the moguls” in 1996.)

As I wrote after the 2005 NCMR, however, I think we need to recognize more subtle divisions in our community. Seeing merely a distinction between media revolution and media reform, at least at this point, gives too much credit to the revolutionaries. It creates connections among them that don’t exist in reality, but that should – that must if we are to win.

It also locates the division at the level of tactics. There is a good side to that: by highlighting the absense of certain ones and advocating for their increased presence, you can promote a greater diversity of tactics, which this movement sorely needs right now. On the other hand, the antiglobalization movement was filled with examples of people who thought that more radical tactics equalled more radical politics. They don’t.

So I ask you to take the time to read my piece on WireTap (it’s kind of long, I know) and I encourage you to read DeeDee’s post (we’re all so lucky she’s started blogging) and then to work through these and related ideas on your own or with your friends and colleagues. And then publish them online.

I’m very excited to see Reclaim the Media hosting a conference reportback and discussion with Andrea Quijada in Seattle on January 29, for example. I look forward to hearing what comes of it.

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