February 1997

Root Page of Article: Balancing the Global Through the Local, by Leslie Regan Shade

Corporatization of Public Space

Critics have remarked on the increasing corporatization of the Internet. Mark Crispin Miller, commenting on the pervasive media conglomerization in the U.S., writes that "the same gigantic players that control the elder media are planning shortly to absorb the Internet, which could be transformed from a thriving common wilderness into an immeasurable de facto cyberpark for corporate interests, with all the dissident voices exiled to sites known only to the activists and other cranks."

One of the fears is that commercial interests will encroach onto the non-commercial nature of community networks. For instance, just as the demise of Montreal's only community-based network, Libertel Montreal, was announced in November, 1996, Project Sidewalk, a new initiative by Bill Gates' Microsoft Corporation was announced. The Sidewalks initiative includes plans for a Web site offering free information on entertainment and events in major Canadian cities, including Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Industry speculation is that Microsoft is spending $200M--$25M in each city.

Corporate interests can create their own 'gated communities' through the creation of Intranets and Virtual Private Networks (VPN's). Intranets are Internet-based systems with electronic firewalls to protect sensitive data. Several telecom firms and ISPs are setting up services aimed at the financial and E-Commerce market. MCI Communications Corp. and U.S. Sprint Communications Co. are setting up private Intranet services that will be segregated from their general-access Internet services. VPN's use the Internet to link routers at company sites across their country or globally. Corporate data is kept separate from general Internet traffic through various security schemes. Some companies are developing applications that support the Internet Engineering Task Force's RSVP (Resource Reservation Protocol), which is designed to guarantee a specific amount of bandwidth across the Internet.

Internet II is a new initiative announced in the Fall of 1996. It brings together major universities (so far all in the U.S.with government and industry partners (including leading computer and telecommunications firms such as IBM, Cisco Systems, AT&T, MCI, and Sun) to develop the next stage of Internet development in academia, including advanced broadband multimedia applications. Technical objectives include the ability to provide a variety of services "on demand" in support of advanced applications.

The Global Internet Project (GIP) is a "voluntary, cooperative effort of fifteen software and telecommunications industry CEOs and senior executives". They "believe the Internet, as much as any technological or intellectual development in history, is a force for the liberation of human creativity and commerce. We believe that the Internet's free, private, and largely unregulated expansion must be carefully nurtured against roadblocks in any form." To support their goals, the GIP's Policy Agenda for the World's Digital Information Infrastructure includes two policy priorities in support of developing e-commerce applications: 1) addressing the needs of information security and authentication; 2) protecting the Internet from "unnecessary regulation by governments". The GIP supports the deregulation of telecommunication markets, which they believe can foster competition and lower prices for consumers and businesses. ^

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