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The Emergence of Convergence
Editors' Introduction

Peter Miller Richard Civille Dirk Koning

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 tools.

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 superhighway—along 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 neighborhood level.

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 community networks.

"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 Technology.

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.

Peter Miller Richard Civille Dirk Koning