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A majority of Malone’s peers in the big media syndicates exhibit similar traits of character and habits of mind, and as recently as last August the representatives of twelve large cable companies appeared before a Senate subcommittee to read all but identical testimony explaining how and why each of them had decided \(independently and without prior for the right to broadcast their programs. Surprised by the similarity of the statements, several senators inquired if it were possible just possible, gentlemen, and meaning no offense that the companies were practicing collusion and restraint of trade. The witnesses professed to be astonished and somewhat hurt by so base a suggestion. The politicians didn’t press the point, and if the Clinton Administration holds firm to its social contract with the nation’s monied interests \(a contract thus far as secure as the ones that defined the administrations of Rutherford B. Hayes the antitrust laws as a barrier to monopoly. Asked for an opinion of the Bell Atlantic deal, Vice President Al Gore, in phrases genially opaque, said, ‘The administration supports any development in the communications marketplace that is pro-competitive and fosters the development of an open, interactive information infrastructure.” That same week, of a bill granting antitrust exemptions to telephone companies wishing to own cable lines and television programming, and Jim Quello, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, voiced his belief in “the constructive potential to make real the promise of competitive super electronic highways with multi-channel, multifaceted service to the public.” The language of bureaucratic euphemism is as traditional as the government’s willingness to protect the interest of monopoly, even if, alas and woe-a-day, the beneficiaries prove to be, in Teddy Roosevelt’s phrase, “malefactors of great wealth.” The historical antecedent is unambiguous. By 1845 everybody traveling west of the Mississippi understood that the new country was rich in five primary resources land, minerals, furs, timber, and government money and that of these, the last was by far the most abundant. The federal treasury supplied funds for almost any project that anybody could name \(railroads, dams, forts, irriin Washington or the nearest courthouse. As a reward for building the first transcontinental railroad, the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific received government land grants in the amount of almost 21 million acres \(an estate slightly larger than the combined area of Vermont, a partner in the Central Pacific \(known to both his friends of the bribes paid to Congress. Meticulous in his bookkeeping, Huntington divided the members into three classes the Clean, who did as they were asked without payment, the Commercial, who sold their votes at the going rate, and the Communists, who disagreed with the railroad and voted their own opinions. As with the building of the railroads, the building of what the Clinton Administration calls “the National Information Infrastructure” requires political as well as logistical decisions. Do the system specifications favor the public or the private interest? Who pays for the laying of the fiber optic cables, and if the telephone and cable television companies advance the money\(estimated at $300 billion over the next fifteen sive rates? Why would they not also reserve the right -to approve the origin and character of the information moving through their checkpoints? Do the subscribers retain the freedom to send their own messages, ask their own questions, and broadcast their own dissenting opinions, or do they become grateful consumers of the authorized texts manufactured by six or seven media syndicates \(Time Warner, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Capital Cities/ABC, the Walt means of production and the systems of distribution? In brief and in sum, does the new information order become an open or a closed society? All the questions touch on the democratic character of the joint American enterprise, but none of them is likely to engender a public debate. Allied with the commercial ambitions that it supposedly restrains, the government will do what is necessary to muffle the political argument, and the press, dazed by the wonders of technology and the splendor of money, will provide the cues for sustained applause. Among the relatively few people apt to make an objection, nobody speaks more eloquently in favor of an open system than Mitchell Kapor, who resigned the chairmanship of Lotus to set up the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The foundation promotes the hope of cheap, easy, and equal access to a data highway constructed along the lines of the Internet, the impromptu network of 1.3 million computers in forty countries that allows roughly 30 million people to talk to one another, read E-mail, post messages, download text \(from the Library of Congress as well as from most univerical rallies, tell jokes all without having to pay tolls, receive authorization, submit a financial statement, or prove that they don’t smoke. Kapor construes the argument at hand as a variant of the early nineteenth-century argument between Thomas Jefferson and the Federalists about the disposition of the western frontier, and in an essay published last summer in Wired, he proposed the Internet as a model of the democratic Eden, a public space held in common between two or more linked computers in which individuals might communicate with one another without fear of embarrassment or censure. Just as Jefferson defined the ownership of land as “a natural right” that guaranteed the prosperity and selfreliance of the American farmer, Kapor defines access to information as a natural right conferring the same boons on any American citizen possessed of a computer, a modem, 18 MARCH 11, 1994