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The Internet (with a different name) became public property - with access granted to chosen few.
Radio took precisely this course. Radio transmissions started in USA in 1920. Those were anarchic broadcasts with no discernible regularity. Non commercial organizations and not for profit organizations began their own broadcasts and even created radio broadcasting infrastructure (albeit of cheap and local kind) dedicated to their audiences. Trade unions, certain educational institutions and religious groups commenced "public radio" broadcasts.
This is followed by Commercial Phase.
When users (e.g., listeners in case of radio, or owners of PCs and modems in example of Internet) reach a critical mass - business sector is alerted. In name of capitalist ideology (another religion, really) it demands "privatization" of medium. This harps on very sensitive strings in every Western soul : efficient allocation of resources which is result of competition; corruption and inefficiency which are naturally associated with public sector ("Other Peoples Money" - OPM); ulterior motives of members of ruling political echelons (the infamous American Paranoia); a lack of variety and of catering to tastes and interests of certain audiences; equation private enterprise = democracy and more.
The end result is same : private sector takes over medium from "below" (makes offers to owners or operators of medium - that they cannot possibly refuse) - or from "above" (successful lobbying in corridors of power leads to appropriate legislation and medium is "privatized").
Every privatization - especially that of a medium - provokes public opposition. There are (usually founded) suspicions that interests of public were compromised and sacrificed on altar of commercialization and rating. Fears of monopolization and cartelization of medium are evoked - and justified, in due time. Otherwise, there is fear of concentration of control of medium in a few hands. All these things do happen - but pace is so slow that initial fears are forgotten and public attention reverts to fresher issues.
A new Communications Act was legislated in USA in 1934. It was meant to transform radio frequencies into a national resource to be sold to private sector which will use it to transmit radio signals to receivers. In other words : radio was passed on to private and commercial hands. Public radio was doomed to be marginalized.
The American administration withdrew from its last major involvement in Internet in April 1995, when NSF ceased to finance some of networks and, thus, privatized its hitherto heavy involvement in net.
A new Communications Act was legislated in 1996. It permitted "organized anarchy". It allowed media operators to invade each others territories.
Phone companies will be allowed to transmit video and cable companies will be allowed to transmit telephony, for instance. This is all phased over a long period of time - still, it is a revolution whose magnitude is difficult to gauge and whose consequences defy imagination. It carries an equally momentous price tag - official censorship. "Voluntary censorship", to be sure, somewhat toothless standardization and enforcement authorities, to be sure - still, a censorship with its own institutions to boot. The private sector reacted by threatening litigation - but, beneath surface it is caving in to pressure and temptation, constructing its own censorship codes both in cable and in internet media.
The third phase is Institutionalization.
It is characterized by enhanced activities of legislation. Legislators, on all levels, discover medium and lurch at it passionately. Resources which were considered "free", suddenly are transformed to "national treasures not to be dispensed with cheaply, casually and with frivolity".
It is conceivable that certain parts of Internet will be "nationalized" (for instance, in form of a licensing requirement) and tendered to private sector. Legislation will be enacted which will deal with permitted and disallowed content (obscenity ? incitement ? racial or gender bias ?)
No medium in USA (not to mention wide world) has eschewed such legislation. There are sure to be demands to allocate time (or space, or software, or content, or hardware, or bandwidth) to "minorities", to "public affairs", to "community business". This is a tax that business sector will have to pay to fend off eager legislator and his nuisance value.
All this is bound to lead to a monopolization of hosts and servers. The important broadcast channels will diminish in number and be subjected to severe content restrictions. Sites which will not succumb to these requirements - will be deleted or neutralized. Content guidelines (euphemism for censorship) exist, even as we write, in all major content providers (CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy).
The last, determining, phase is The Bloodbath.
This is phase of consolidation. The number of players is severely reduced. The number of browser types will be limited to 2-3 (Netscape, Microsoft and which else ?). Networks will merge to form privately owned mega-networks. Servers will merge to form hyper-servers run on supercomputers. The number of ISPs will be considerably diminished.
50 companies ruled greater part of media markets in USA in 1983. The number in 1995 was 18. At end of century they will number 6.
This is stage when companies - fighting for financial survival - strive to acquire as many users/listeners/viewers as possible. The programming is shallowed to lowest (and widest) common denominator. Shallow programming dominates as long as bloodbath proceeds.
In hindsight, 20 years hence, we might come to understand that computers improved our capacity to do things differently and more productively. But one thing is fast becoming clear. The added benefits of IT are highly sensitive to and dependent upon historical, psychosocial and economic parameters outside perimeter of technology itself. When it is introduced, how it is introduced, for which purposes is it put to use and even by who it was introduced - largely determine costs of its introduction and, therefore, its feasibility and contribution to enhancement of productivity. The CEE countries better take note.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and searcheurope.com.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com