Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"The Oxymoron of Free Speech"

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The Oxymoron of "Free" Speech

Therefore, those who believe that open public discourse continues to be the basis of the American democracy face a dilemma: how to advance the theory and practice of "free speech" from the town meeting of the past to the commercially-driven and technologically-advanced telecommunications networks of the present...?

In order to make this cultural leap, three basic problems must be solved:

Access: People must be connected to whatever forum provides open public discourse. However, this connection must provide symmetrical interaction -- allow people to participate a dialogue rather than be passive recipients of information and entertainment.

Economics: Creating and Maintaining Democracy in the Telecommunications Age. A cost-free stroll to the public street corner or public library has been replaced by buying expensive electronic equipment and telecommunications services. Although inexpensive to some people, the cost of participating in the new electronic marketplace of ideas is prohibitive to most people.

Knowledge: People need to know how to use the equipment and telecommunications service, as well as to understand how to get the most benefit from the "electronic street corner."

Community media organizations strive to overcome these three problems.

However, while community involvement in telecommunications is generally seen as a public good, over the past few years ongoing public funding has been threatened:

Public broadcasting has seen its funding cut in the past -- and may experience the eventual elimination of Congressional funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the national endowments.

Public, educational, and governmental (PEG) access television organizations have been relatively successful in securing funding through local cable television franchise fees, however the cash crunch from local municipalities and competition from direct broadcast satellite (DBS) television service is beginning to squeeze both franchise payments and the amount of funds passed on to community media organizations.

Community computer networks have never had sustainable public funding -- and the one source for major grants (the National Telecommunications Information Administration's Telecommunications Information Infrastructure Assistance Program) has been cut and may not survive future Congressional funding cycles.

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