PFF Agenda [cr-95/9/4]


Richard Moore

Sender: Richard K. Moore

At the request of the Information Society Quarterly, I've written a 10-page
article analyzing PFF's "Magna Carta".  This article is much improved over
the Magna Carta critique I published early this year, and which was one of
the primary threads leading to the establishment of the cyber-rights

>>From what little we've seen so far about PFF's recent Aspen conference, it
appears their agenda has not changed, although their outreach efforts seem
to be proceeding quite effectively.  I'd like to include here a summary of
the Info Society article, as part of our "Aspen thread".


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

[According to an article in The Nation, PFF is funded by:]

       "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..."

[PFF funds are then covertly re-directed to projects of Speaker Gingrich:]

        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 veneer covering a corporate-pandering agenda.

[The Magna Carta rhetoric, identical to Radical Republican rhetroic in
general, intentionally confuses "individual" with "coporate" identity.  The
Magna Carta waxes eloquent (the "American Dream" thread) about the
pioneering individual of the American Frontier, and espouses that
Cyberspace should champion individual intitiative over governemnt control.]

But the manifesto makes no mention whatever of protections for _individual_
freedoms.  There's no discussion, for example, of guaranteeing freedom of
expression or of protecting privacy.  In addition, there's no discussion of
preserving the viability of Internet mailing lists and bulletin boards --
which have proven to be cyberspace's equivalent of "freedom of association"
and "freedom of the press".

What the manifesto does discuss -- at great length -- is the protection of
freedoms for _telecommunications & media conglomerates_: freedom to form
monopolies, freedom to set arbitrary price rates and structures, freedom to
control content, and freedom from fair taxation, through special accounting
procedures.  This is a formula which harks back to the robber-baron
capitalism of the late nineteenth century, when railroad, oil, and steel
monopolies ran roughshod over America's economy and political system.

[I skip over discussions of copyright law, revisionist history, regulation
frameworks, definition of property, etc., etc.  The main point of the Magna
Carta, deceptively presented, is an agenda for total deregulation of

The obvious likely consequences of such an agenda are conspicuously not
discussed by the manifesto.  If entry regulation is removed, and
phone/cable collaboration is encouraged, then the obvious alternatives for
collaboration would be interconnection, joint venture, and acquisition.
Given the multi-billion dollar capital reserves of the phone companies, the
best business opportunity would presumably be for phone companies to simply
acquire cable companies, thus establishing total monopolies over wires
coming into the home.

Anti-trust law would be largely irrelevant to this scenario.  To begin
with, anti-trust enforcement seems to be a thing of the past -- especially
with the Republican radicals in Congress.  More important, perhaps, is the
current anti-trust stance toward the RBOCs: partitioning them into separate
turfs seems to be the most that anti-trust enforcers demand.  Within their
turfs, they're allowed to be as monopolistic as they can get by with.

If price-regulation is removed, then we would be left with _totally_
unregulated telecommunications monopolies in each RBOC region --
controlling phone, television, multimedia, and messaging services, and
charging whatever the traffic will bear.  Hence the appropriateness of this
article's title: "Cyberspace Inc and the Robber Baron Age".  America's
total communications infrastructure would be divided into feudal fiefdoms,
and the economic regime would resemble the railroad cartels of the
nineteenth century.

All the manifesto's rhetoric about individual freedom and dynamic
competition is deception -- the agenda is totally anti-competitive,
anti-individual, and anti-free-enterprise.  A century's progress in
achieving dynamic, competitive, and diverse communications industries --
based on appropriate and non-stifling regulation -- would be thrown out the
window all at once.


This is not the place to analyze or even enumerate the plethora of
competing legislative proposals currently before Congress regarding
telecommunications.  Suffice it to say that the agenda promulgated by the
"Magna Carta" is finding widespread expression in that legislation.  This
fact -- along with the manifesto's close connection to the communications
industry and to Speaker Gingrich -- indicates that the "Magna Carta" should
be taken very seriously, as regards both its agenda, and the kind of
rhetoric and deception employed.  The "Magna Carta" provides a rare insight
into the threat facing America's future from corporate power grabbers, and
simplifies the task of seeing through the propaganda smokescreen being
employed by legislators and industry spokespeople.


 Posted by Richard K. Moore (•••@••.•••) Wexford, Ireland (USA citizen)
                            cyber-rights co-leader