1/n: Cyberspace Inc and the Robber Baron Age [cr-95/11/23]


Richard Moore

Dear Cyber-Righters,

Some of you may remember an article called "Magna Carta Analyzed", which
contributed to the formation of the cyber-rights list.  At the request of
the Information Society, I've rewritten it for their publication.  Since it
deals with many of the core issues discussed on this list, I'll post the
article in installments, over the next several days.  You may recognize
some of the first installment from an excerpt posted earlier.  Sorry for
the minor duplication.



         This article may be posted in entirety for non-commercial use.

To appear in:  INFORMATION SOCIETY, Vol 12(2)
   Edited by:  Mark Poster <•••@••.•••>
     See WWW:  http://www.ics.uci.edu/~kling/tis.html


                Cyberspace Inc and the Robber Baron Age,
                   an analysis of PFF's "Magna Carta"

                 Copyright 1995 by Information Society

                             Richard K. Moore
                             August 19,  1995

        Cyberspace and the American Dream:
        A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age
        Release 1.2 // August 22, 1994

The manifesto "Cyberspace and the American Dream: A Magna Carta for the
Knowledge Age", published by the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF), is a
document of considerable significance.  Its very title reveals much about its
intent.  Its promoters -- both alleged and concealed -- are indicative of its
propagandistic mission.  Its contents have accurately prophesied the
agenda and rhetoric which have unfolded subsequent to the manifesto's

Given the powerful telecommunications interests behind PFF -- and the close
ties of that organization to Speaker Newt Gingrich -- a detailed analysis
of the
manifesto can provide insight into what may (unfortunately) be the most likely
scenario for the future of cyberspace.

* * *

The title invites direct comparison with the original Magna Carta, which is
defined in The Cassell Concise English Dictionary as follows:

        Magna Carta - The Great Charter of English liberties,
        sealed by King John on 15 June, 1215

With due respect to Cassell's, this is a misleading definition.  The Magna
did not grant liberties generally to "the English", but rather devolved powers
and privileges exclusively to an elite aristocracy.  As shall be shown in this
article, PFF's "Magna Carta" is similarly misleading: much of its rhetoric
to imply a concern with individual liberties, but its substance would devolve
power and privilege exclusively to the biggest corporate players in the
telecommunications industry.

Just as the Magna Carta supported the power of the Nobles -- with each to have
autocratic power in his own domain -- so PFF's manifesto supports the power of
communications monopolies -- with each to have unregulated control over its
own cyberspace fiefdom.  Rather than being a charter of liberties, the
promotes a regime of robber barons in cyberspace.

Instead of an infrastructure for public communications -- like the current
Internet, or the American highway system -- cyberspace would be developed as a
corporate owned monopoly -- priced at whatever the traffic will bear.  Instead
of providing a "space" in which citizens are free to speak and associate (like
Internet), cyberspace would become a profit-machine and propaganda channel
for media conglomerates.  PFF's manifesto is a formula for neo-feudalism in the
"Knowledge Age" -- it is a charter for what could aptly be dubbed "Cyberspace

* * *

The ultimate promoters of the manifesto are concealed.  Its introduction claims:

        This statement represents the cumulative wisdom and innovation of many
        dozens of people.  It is based primarily on the thoughts of four
        'co-authors':  Ms. Esther Dyson; Mr. George Gilder; Dr. George
        and Dr. Alvin Toffler.  This release 1.2 has the final 'imprimatur' of
        no one.

The implication would seem to be that enlightened individuals spontaneously
composed the manifesto, in the interests, presumably, of progress and freedom.
The true authorship is uncertain.  According to Mark Stahlman of New Media
Associates, a scheduled speaker at an upcoming PFF conference:

        The 'author' of this rambling camel-of-a-report is Frank Gregorsky.
        He's a journalist working for PFF who does their newsletter.  None of
        the listed contributors actually did any work directly on the
        That's why it's simply *not* coherent.
           [posted to •••@••.••• on Sun, 5 Feb 1995]

The "coherence" of the manifesto will be discussed in some detail below.
As for
the authorship, it would appear that PFF itself must be considered the
source of
the manifesto.

PFF turns out to be a typical industry-front organization.  Characterized
by Mr.
Stahlman as "Newt's 'think tank'", PFF is funded by a panoply of corporate
sponsors.  The February 6, 1995 issue of The Nation carries an article by David
Corn, entitled "CyberNewt".  Here's an excerpt;

        There is nothing particularly futuristic about the funding sources
        behind the P.F.F. and its conference.  Telecommunications firms
        subsidize the group: AT&T, BellSouth, Turner Broadcasting System, Cox
        Cable Communications.  Other donors to the P.F.F.'s $1.9 million bank
        account include conservative foundations, Wired magazine, high-tech
        firms, military contractors, and drug companies (another foundation
        passion is attacking the Food and Drug Administration).

        When Senator Phil Gramm spoke at the [PFF] conference luncheon, the
        tables closest to the podium were reserved for corporate benefactors:
        Eli Lilly, Seagram's, Phillip Morris, S.B.C. Communications (formerly
        Southwestern Bell) ...

Brock N. Meeks published an article in Inter@ctive Week, dated April 28, 1995,
entitled "Freedom Foundation Faces Scrutiny".  These brief excerpts from the
article outline Mr. Meeks' understanding of how PFF funds are used, and how it
seeks to hide its link to Mr. Gingrich:

        ...Among I@W's findings:

        * PFF spent $483,000 to underwrite a college
        course taught by Gingrich. ...

        * PFF spent $148,000 to underwrite The Progress
        Report, Gingrich's weekly cable talk show carried
        on his own National Empowerment Television. ...

        The PFF links to Gingrich and his own political
        action committee, called GOPAC, have drawn the
        interest of the Ethics Committee and the IRS, which
        is "reevaluating" PFF's nonprofit status,
        according to an IRS source.

        The PFF link to Gingrich's rising political
        currency has proved lucrative. From March 1993 to
        March 1994 the group raised $611,000. During the
        remainder of 1994, when it became clear that the
        Republicans stood a good chance to capture both the
        House and the Senate for the first time in 40
        years, an additional $1.07 million poured into PFF
        coffers, according to its financial records. ...

        The latest PFF tax returns do not make any link to
        GOPAC or Gingrich. Any such linking would violate
        IRS tax exemption rules. However, Eisenach is on
        record acknowledging that he did the basic
        groundwork of setting up PFF while running GOPAC.

The money trail apparently goes from media/telecommunications
conglomerates, to PFF, and finally to Mr. Gingrich's projects, which seem to be
heavily focused on propaganda ventures.  Small wonder that PFF's manifesto,
and Mr. Gingrich's legislative agenda, promote excessive deregulation of the
telecommunications industry, and pave the way for monopolistic control.
Evidently the Lords of Cyberspace Inc are to include the likes of  AT&T,
BellSouth, Turner Broadcasting System, and Cox Cable Communications.  Mr.
Gingrich's famous pledges to  "empower the individual" and "provide laptops
for ghetto dwellers" should be seen for what they are: a shallow populist
covering a corporate-pandering agenda.

INSTALLMENT 2/N to follow

 Posted by Richard K. Moore (•••@••.•••) Wexford, Ireland
 CyberRights Co-leader |  Cyberlib=http://www.internet-eireann.ie/cyberlib