Masthead CMC Magazine / April 1, 1996
 A Map for the Civic-Minded, by Don Langham

Designing for More Than Just the Passive Consumer

It is not that Miller has anything against advertisers and retailers playing a role in cyberspace. Rather, his concern is that the NII should not be implemented in a way that defines the role of ordinary citizens in cyberspace as passive consumers. As a national resource that will affect everyone's life in one way or another, the NII should be designed from the outset so that we the people can use it in whatever ways we see it benefiting our legitimate civic interests. Market optimists argue that competition among telecommunication companies will provide plenty of outlets for citizens to produce and distribute any communication he or she believes worthwhile. Miller counters this "ideological hegemony" with "three realities" about competitive markets:

"First, not all markets are, or can be made to be, competitive for more than brief periods of time. Second, markets are not able to profitably produce everything people or society needs. Third, not all needs can be meaningfully satisfied by commercial consumption." (p. 378)

Given this, it makes sense that local, state, and federal governments should enact policies that not only open the gates of competition for telecommunication and entertainment companies, but that also establish some minimal socially desirable levels of service they should provide through the NII. As Miller acknowledges, this sort of rational economic critique holds little sway in Washington, especially with conservative politicians busy convincing voters that government is the problem and not the solution to problems. These policy makers (or non-policy makers) would prefer that government remain on the sideline until market failures occur that warrant government intervention.

Miller argues that this hands-off attitude is unfortunate given that fixing an infrastructure (if it can be fixed) is often more costly than building it right the first time. Without public policy and legislation to set the basic expectations for the NII, Miller expects that its long-term costs, both in terms of expenditures and lost opportunities, could be enormous. What's more, today's policy makers are forgetting the government's role in the -- genesis of the Internet.

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