In an era of merging technologies, merging corporations, and merging
policies, we recognize the need for an increased collaboration among all of us who care
about democracy and the democratic control and development of new media and technology
The field of community media or
public interest technology, characterized by principles of open access, equitable use and
democratic participation, has grown over the years, along with key developments in
corporate technology and public policy. Cable television gave rise to public access cable
centers and the Alliance for Community Media. Ensuring open access and learning
opportunities for all with the new technologies gave rise to community technology centers
and the Community Technology Center Network. The advent of the Internet gave rise to
community networks and the Association for Community Networking.
However each of our organization's
work originated and still takes place within limited and restricted technology and policy
arenas, everything has utterly changed.
Divided there is little power. This
maxim is not lost on the communications industries. Thanks to the deregulatory policies of
the 1996 Telecommunications Act and the trend in digital technologies to merge previously
distinct services such as cable and telephone, corporate developers are busy forming huge
new corporations across the now out-moded regulatory, technology, and sectoral divisions.
Deregulatory policy has unleashed the enormous power of industry to accelerate development
of a massive information superhighwayalong with the ominous possibility for enormous
hegemony and social-economic dominance over the culture of communications.
Divided there is little power. Along
with these mergers, a convergence of public interest power is also taking place, among
those who have begun to build new linkages across these no longer distinct lines.
This special issue of The
Community Technology Review reflects the spirit of this new convergent thinking in
public interest technology. Our purpose is to combine passionate stories from the
front-lines with some fairly broad analyses to give this work its full perspective in the
hopes of serving as a long-range organizing tool for the work ahead.
Here in these pages are voices of
activists and analysts from over twenty states around the country and Canada. Ann Wrixon,
Leslie Harris, Aki Namioka, Tony Wilhelm, Audrie Krause, and others highlight the
potential power of community organizations to influence the leverage municipal governments
have over the shape of new corporate telephone and cable mergers and other key issues.
Barry Forbes, whose long career has spanned community radio, cable and rural
telecommunications, outlines two set of critically emerging "convergence issues"
the public interest community must become more effective organizing around. Anne McFarland
talks eloquently about how hard it is to track these new policies in the real world while
running libraries and community networks on a shoestring, and Jamie McClelland, Phil
Shapiro, and Sheva Nerad fill out other key library-community perspectives. Terry
Grunwald, Cary Williams, and Lauren-Glenn Davitian describe emerging state-level
strategies, and Sue Buske, Pierre Clark, Autumn Labbe-Renault, Kara Harris, and Fred
Williams give us pictures of local activities that bring this right down to the
This publication is made possible in
large part by a grant from the Kellogg Foundation's Managing Information with Rural
America (MIRA) program, and Barry Forbes, Arthur Harvey, Fred Johnson, Mary Lester, and
Jon Darling provide special perspectives on rural telecommunications issues and practices.
Analysts Wally Siembab, Ken Pigg, Ron Burnett, Seongcheol Kim, and Lawrence Hecht describe
the rise of the new public sphere (what old-time community networkers used to call the
"agora" and the "polis") made possible by digital technologies, and
the failure of policy to recognize and promote this phenomena. Steve Cisler, Jessica
Brown, Ryan Turner, and Carl Kucharski round our efforts by helping provide a variety of
relevant resources. These contributions by some three dozen writers paint a powerful
impression of the current "state of play" as several generations of public
interest technology activists converge.
This is all living testimony to the
emergence of convergence in the public interest arena. Small associations with only a few
hundred members each are beginning to join forces to form powerful new coalitions of
thousands. There is power here because these small memberships represent individual
grassroots leaders and influential community-based organizations with substantial local
constituencies. Community media and technology centers around the country serve tens of
thousands of individuals each week at the neighborhood level. Public access cable centers
have a huge combined viewing audience in the millions, as does the combined user base of
"All politics is local,"
as former House Speaker Tip O'Neil was fond of saying. All these projects operate in local
communities and are generally sophisticated in their understanding of political levers
from the city council on out to their Congressional representatives. New program and
funding streams from the Department of Education, USDA, HUD and elsewhere are emerging to
complement the pioneering TIIAP program from the Department of Commerce. These federal
efforts are complemented by state and local campaigns, and all are being followed by a
growing awareness among private foundations of the need to support information technology
capacity building for nonprofit organizations in general through initiatives such as OMB
Watch's Nonprofits' Policy and Technology Project and the National Strategy for Nonprofit
The chance to produce this printed
"Review" and its complementary web-based version has given us an exciting
opportunity to help develop the new form of journalism and communication which these
collaborative medias provide. The printed version reflects the care and attention which
such forms usually require as well as allowing us to reach those less at home with
electronic, web-based presentations. The electronic version provides an extensive
hypertext of links, the opportunity to explore and delve into a wide range of related
areas, and, with all the email addresses and discussions going on, helps make this a
living, responsive exchange as well. All told, this special issue of The Community
Technology Review provides an opportunity to show that we share a common vision of
democratic vitality and activity and our collective ability to shape the outcomes of
ongoing industry development and mergers for the larger good.