Welcome Robert W. McChesney (Univ of Illinois) and Host John Nichols (Twitter)

Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy

Bob McChesney and I have written a stack of books and articles together. We have co-founded a national media reform group, Free Press. And we have maintained a multi-decade discourse on politics, economics, society and rock-and-roll. So you should take my assessment of his role as a media critic, watchdog and analyst with that in mind.

But when Bob McChesney raises the alarm about a media issue, I say pay attention. Even if no one else is sounding the alarm, pay attention. Why? Because no one spends more time than McChesney engaged in the serious endeavor of figuring out how we now communicate, how we will communicate, how powerful media corporations seek to influence that communication, and how government agencies can and do fail to protect the public interest in a wide-open and wide-ranging democratic discourse.

That’s what McChesney has done with Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy (The New Press), a groundbreaking new book that Juliet Schor hails as “a major new work” on new media. “Steering between the treacherous Scylla and Charybdis of Internet boosters and skeptics,” explains Schor, “McChesney shows how the economic context of the digital environment is making the difference between an open and democratic internet, and one which is manipulated for private gain.”

That, of course, is the great debate that must be had with the rise of any new media platform. McChesney knows the outlines of such debates; his groundbreaking 1995 book, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935 (Oxford University Press) helped to define our understanding of the emergence and consolidation of commercial broadcasting in the United States. But of course that book was written long after the definitional debates regarding radio and television broadcasting.

What makes Digital Disconnect so exciting is it arrives as the essential debates about the Internet are still going on. McChesney shows us how communications conglomerates are already gaming the process to create rules and regulations that favor their bottom lines. Vital battles have already been lost, often with little or no attention from so-called “mainstream media.” But McChesney does offers more than an explanation of how much is at stake. He provides an outline for what communications scholar Eric Alterman describes as “a path forward to try to repair the damage.”

The question of whether we will follow that path remains an open one.

If Americans demand a free-and-open Internet, defined not by the demands of multinational corporations – and the speculators who recognize the possibilities for epic profits – but by civic and democratic values, we can still have it.

We can strike the right balances when it comes to privacy and commercialism. We can realize the full potential of remarkable new technologies.

But that will not happen by chance. Internet utopians might want to imagine that the digital landscape is so vast, that the World Wide Web is so grand in scope and character, that this media platform could never be colonized.

But McChesney reminds us that the empire has already struck back: Google’s grabbing a 97 percent share of the mobile search market. Microsoft’s operating system is used by over 90 percent of the world’s computers.

Monopolies, duopolies and trusts are shaping a digital destiny that serves their bottom-line demands. But this new media produces insufficient journalism to replace the thousands of reporters and editors who have been forced off the beat as old-media outlets contract with the loss of advertising dollars to the Internet. At the same time we are being data mined by politicians and profiteers who are turning the Internet into what McChesney describes as an unparalleled apparatus for government and corporate surveillance.

This is not what we should want.

And it is not what we must accept.

We can address the digital disconnect and make the Internet a tool for informing and advancing our democracy. But that will only happen if we recognize the fight that is going on and if we also recognize that we the people have a right – make that: a responsibility – to shape our digital destiny and the communities, the nation and the world that will extend from it.

Digital Disconnect provides us with the information we need to achieve that recognition – and to act on it.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

73 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Robert W. McChesney, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy”

BevW April 21st, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Bob, John, Welcome back to the Lake.

John, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

For our new readers/commenters:

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John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Hello Everyone. Welcome to the Lake, and to a discussion with Bob McChesney on his new book, Digital Disconnect.

Let me get things started with a question for Bob:

The Internet has tremendous potential for communication and building community. Some folks think that the power of both can trump efforts by media conglomerates to control it. You’re dubious. Why?

dakine01 April 21st, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Bob and John and welcome back to Firedoglake this afternoon.

Bob, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive if you address this in there. How do regular human beings gain push back against the corporations when so much of the Traditional Media is going to back the Corps (often their employers) and simultaneously mock and marginalize the people who are pointing out the problems with corporate control of the internet?

Elliott April 21st, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Welcome to the Lake

How do we fight off corporate control when our own government appears to be All-In with them?

eCAHNomics April 21st, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Does this study apply to the U.S. or the globe?

If the U.S., what is happening elsewhere?

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Clearly the Internet has revolutionary promise, and has done much to enhance democracy. But it is not black and white. The problem is not media conglomerates, per se, as much as corporate capitalism as a system. The dominant players are not really the media conglomerates as much as the ISP cartel–Verizon, AT&T and Comcast– as well as all the new gigantic monopolists like Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and the like. Around 13 or 14 of the 32 largest firms in terms of market value in the US economy are Internet giants, and these firms make their money ion ways that can be highly destructive of the Internet’s democratic promise.

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Hey dakine01, Elliott and eCAHNomics: Great questions. Bob is answering one and will get to yours in quick order!

eCAHNomics April 21st, 2013 at 2:10 pm

I have reached the Luddite stage of life, so I know nothing about what I’m going to ask next. What about the PirateBox? Is that any solution?

dakine01 April 21st, 2013 at 2:11 pm

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Clicking the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and comment number being replied to and makes it easier for folks to follow the conversation.

Note: Some browsers do not like to let the Reply function correctly if it is pressed after a page refresh but before the page completes loading

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 2:11 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 5

It is definitely a global phenomenon, though countries and regions vary due to regulations and policies. In the United States the corruption of the process has meant that the giants have been mostly unencumbered as they have pursued their commercial ambitions, and as they have worked closely with the government, including the military.

dakine01 April 21st, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Can we do to the these Media/Internet firms what wound up happening to AOL when they bought Time-Warner? (After all, they were an early ISP type business and with Comcast owning NBC now and Time-Warner offering ISP access through Roadrunner, I don’t think there is as much difference as your reply is indicating)

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 2:14 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 8

I need to read up on Pirate Box before I can say anything intelligent. I do not have time to do that right now.

I doubt there is a technical solution to what is a fundamental policy issue, especially given the power of the forces on the other side.

BevW April 21st, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Is the starting point of push back through the FCC or Congress? The bandwidth authorization (FCC) seems to be the beginning point. Your thoughts.

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 2:18 pm

This is a lively discussion. taking us in a lot of directions. Now that we’re into it, let me ask Bob: Why did you think this was the right time to write Digital Disconnect? Have we reached a critical juncture? Are we approaching one?

CTuttle April 21st, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Aloha, Bob and John…! What a pleasure to see you both here at the Lake…!

With the House CISPA headed to the Senate, what are some of the potential ramifications…?

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 2:20 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 11

The reason AOL flopped what that once broadband came along its business model–dominating dial-up Internet access– was destroyed. All the giants I mentioned above have monopoly franchises online similar in magnitude to Standard Oil’s monopoly over the oil market in the late 19th century. That is the basis of their empire-building.

The media giants that are on strongest footing have been those like Comcast-NBC that have an Internet monopoly franchise. Comcast is a member of the ISP cartel and dominates wired broadband access. This is why the media conglomerates have been singularly obsessed with extending copyright laws and instituting draconian and indefensible penalties online. They knwo that maintenance of their copyright they are a much less secure industry.

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 2:23 pm

CTuttle raised the issue of CISPA. I’ll let Bob respond directly. But here is a link to the vote breakdown from the House: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2013/roll117.xml

You’ll see that it passed 288-127.

spocko April 21st, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Hi Robert and John.
Last time I saw you two was at Corta Madera Book Passage talking about your book. The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again.

I’ve come to the conclusion that one of most powerful forces in the universe is now corporate lobbying. I just watched the Senate defy the will of 90 percent of the American public. Who’s bidding are they doing? Not ours.

Therefore I think the fight for the future will be at the lobbying level. What leverage do We the People have if we don’t have a multi-million dollar lobbying firm behind us?

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 2:26 pm
In response to BevW @ 13

Both. I go through all the major policy fights concerning the Internet in the book. There are at least six or seven, including CISPA which I see someone is asking about. On each of the issues the American people oppose the existing policies to the extent they know the debates are taking place. The more they know, the more they oppose them. But the challenge has been engaging and organizing people to be effective. It is so difficult to exaggerate the corruption of the system in Washington, in both parties. It is one of the reasons John Nichols and I started Free Press, to bring organized and informed popular participation of core communication policy debates that are settled behind closed doors by powerful corporate interests and their political lackeys.

We need to take the political fight outside the beltway and the beltway culture to win permanent victories. That is the political challenge before us.

spocko April 21st, 2013 at 2:30 pm

“We need to take the political fight outside the beltway and the beltway culture to win permanent victories. That is the political challenge before us.”

Say we do. What stops them from ignoring us? Remember all the FCC hearings? Did any of that change Chairman Powell’s mind?

While I believe that it is important for people to know what is happening, I’m curious if there is a way to play one corporate interests against others to get what we want.

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 2:32 pm
In response to spocko @ 18

Actually, our next book — which comes out in June — is titled Dollarocracy. It deals with these precise issues, making the point that with the decline of traditional media coverage of politics and the huge spike in campaign spending after the Citizens United ruling, we really are moving toward a moment when the will of the people can be trumped by what progressives of old referred to as “The Money Power.” We argue that the right response will take the form of a new “Age of Reform,” when citizens link their activism for better media, cleaner politics and more democracy.

cocktailhag April 21st, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Welcome. Do you think that it’s too late to enact the sort of competition-promoting rules that give other countries so much better digital services at such a lower price? To me it seems as though our telecom and related giants have leapt into bed with the government in so many of its most nefarious pursuits that they will remain forever commingled, to the detriment of just about everybody. Forget privacy and freedom; we can’t even get four bars, at twice the price, to boot.

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 15

I wrote about th e2012 versions of CISPA in the book. The current version is similar and is a dreadful piece of legislation by civil liberties standard. Really indefensible.

The central overriding issue that should concern everyone is that CISPA legalizes an expedites the ability of national security agencies, police and military to work closely and surreptitiously with the Internet corporate giants to collect and dissect data on American citizens as never before. A lot of this has been going on–remember the big AT&T scandal of spying on citizens for the government under Bush?–but now it will be A-OK.

The problems are many. First, everything in the system encourages increased unaccountable surveillance. There is nothing in the system pushing back the other way.

Second, the corporate giants basically know everything we do online, Google and Facebook have business models based on collecting data on everything you do and there is a huge industry behind them. This is a very different level of surveillance than we have ever known on the past.

spocko April 21st, 2013 at 2:39 pm

One of the ways that Rupert Murdoch’s media empire was hurt was from the phone hacking scandal that shut down News of the World and scuttled his plans to buy controlling interest in BSkyB TV.
Right now we see talk about Murdoch looking to expand in the US. (Not to mention the Koch brothers!)

Could focusing some of the resources of Free Press in investigating the links between that scandal in the UK with NewsCorp scandals here be useful?

I know that the WSJ won’t be investigating this, but maybe some independent journalists could.
I don’t just want to convince the congress people to do things differently in the face of media conglomerates, but to actively go after them in their weak spots. “When your enemy is drowning, throw them an anchor.”

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 2:40 pm

The questions are great folks. Bob is answering them as fast as he can type, and I will keep throwing in notes and background where it seems appropriate.

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 2:42 pm
In response to cocktailhag @ 22

Terrific question. This is a debate we need to have in this country. Americans pay vastly more for cellphone service and for wired broadband than do people in nearly every other nation in the industrial world. In 2000 the USA was in he top 3 for nearly every measure of Internet penetration, quality of service, etc. Today we rank between 15 and 35 depending on the measure and we are falling.

Why? The ISP cartel which basically has no effective competition. They can charge a ton and provide crappy service because there is no competitive or regulatory pressure.

Some people think we can solve the problem by having real competition. In the book I explain why I think that is highly unrealistic. I* believe the smart course woudl be to eliminate the cartel, Buy up the lines where needed and make broadband Internet access free and ubiquitous, a public utility, like the post office.

Ironically, that is not a socialist argument. All the businesses that use the Internet would benefit as well. They are getting squeezed and hosed by the cartel as well.

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 2:43 pm
In response to spocko @ 24

There have been a number of articles suggesting that Murdoch has come out of the whole scandal as strong or stronger than ever. But I do think that continued attention to it is appropriate. We should also be looking at the lobbying power and influence of big media companies with the FCC and Congress.
And, now, there will be a great deal of attention to the prospect that the Koch Brothers might by all or part of the Tribune Co.
I will counsel, however, that Murdoch and the Kochs are very different players. Be careful not to presume they are coming from the same place.

CTuttle April 21st, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Mahalo, Bob, that is exactly what I’ve been dreading…! I’m pleased that my House critter voted against it, now, it’s time to work on my two newly minted Senators…! ;-)

cocktailhag April 21st, 2013 at 2:47 pm

My hometown, Portland, has tried before to install public broadband, and is contemplating doing so again. This does seem the best course, given the capture of government by the existing players, and vice versa. I suppose you could call it Exceptionalism; pay more and get less.

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 2:47 pm
In response to spocko @ 24

Free Press has worked on this issue and will continue to do so. It is appalling that Murdoch is allowed to gallivant around despite his criminal activities.

I spoke with one of the key organizers against Murdoch in the UK recently and it was depressing to see how Murdoch appears to be surviving there. But the matter remains open.

As for the Koch brothers and their newspaper ambitions, thsi is directly related to the book John and I have coming out in June. I hope we will be back them at the book salon to discuss it then.

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Like that we are seeing some specific questions about policy and infrastructure issues, such as public broadband. Bob will weigh in on this issue shortly.

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 2:53 pm
In response to cocktailhag @ 29

Yes, community broadband systems are happening in communities across the country. I write about them in the book. It is really exciting how town after town all across the nation has created their own non-profit ISP and provided a better service at a lower price than the cartel. It is a “public option” so to speak.

The cartel has responded to the emergence of municipal broadband that same way the mob relishes an IRS investigation. AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have used their immense lobbying muscle in nearly every state to attempt to have state governments make community broadband systems illegal…to force people to use the cartel of use nothing at all. It has been a huge fight.

The good news is that once people taste community broadband they will fight to keep it. In at least 19 states the cartel has been defeated, most recently in Georgia. It is very heartening.

What we really need is a federal law permitting community broadband. Kerry and McCain proposed such a bill in 2006 and 2007, but nothing has happened since then. The cartel has too much power in DC.

spocko April 21st, 2013 at 2:54 pm
In response to John Nichols @ 21

Look at me, all prescience about the topic of your next book! If you come to the SF Bay area I’ll show up for the reading!
What I’m interested in on this topic is where and how the donating and election money is hidden.

We know that a lot of companies spent money on losing candidates in 2012. But they hid their donations behind the shield of 501 c. 4s like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. I wondered, “Why would they hide these donations, it’s not illegal. What are they afraid of?”

I think that the answer are two fold. 1) They know that if they have consumer facing businesses they will get grief
2) That they spent Shareholders money backing a loser. And that money could have gone directly to the stock price or the shareholders.

Sadly when the revelations of who spent the money gets out, it is old news. If I was an corporate stock holder I would ask some of these CEOs, ‘Why did you spend X millions of dollars backing This candidate? Why aren’t you spending money on the business of your business?” (Of course the reality is that the ROI from buying politicians his huge, but it would be nice to get them to admit it on a financial conference call. )
What I want to do is use the short term greed of the corporate shareholders on the CEOs who want to influence long term policy by buying up politicians.

Of course this doesn’t stop the Pete Peterson’s or Sheldon Adleson’s from blowing their fortunes, but it does keep it away from a direct level of donations from corporations.

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Hey Bob: Give folks a sense of your views regarding journalism on the web. How much is there? Can it be sustained?

PeasantParty April 21st, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Hi, Robert,

Everyone I know is up in arms about CISPA. In fact, most are planning an internet blackout tomorrow to protest. Do you think that act of “we do not Consent”, will get anyone’s attention?

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 3:02 pm
In response to spocko @ 33

You write: “Sadly when the revelations of who spent the money gets out, it is old news.”

This is a very important point. Transparency is vital. But it is not a sufficient response. With so much money flying around, it is easy to lose sight of who is spending what — and, of course, much of the spending is well cloaked.

The key is deeper reform that seeks to get big money out of politics and to develop models for free airtime and public financing. This will almost certainly require a constitutional amendment. That’s a tall order, but we have met tall orders in the past!

cocktailhag April 21st, 2013 at 3:02 pm

It is funny, isn’t it, how we talk about the “private sector” on such reverent tones, while most peoples’ actual experience with it tends to suck. Who do you love? Your bank? Your internet provider? Your utility? Your big box store? Your real estate developer? Show me a private sector transaction that isn’t pre-engineered to rip off the customer, and I’ll show you the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold.

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 3:05 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 35

I am all for an Internet blackout and anything else that can be done. Will it get people’s attention? That depends upon how widespread it is. The problem we face here is that, unlike SOPA in late 2011, the Internet giants are in bed with CISPA and the national security agencies.

This is the problem when there is so much unaccountable monopoly power dominating the Internet. These guys–Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft–all have powerful commercial reasons to play ball with the military and they benefit by the relationship. When they evaluate CISPA civil liberties concerns are minor; it is commercial factors that are what shape their conduct.

PeasantParty April 21st, 2013 at 3:08 pm


I can’t say how widespread it will be, but there are many like myself that are willing to try it. Hopefully, it will get some attention in DC. We plan to call DC reps to tell them about it.

PeasantParty April 21st, 2013 at 3:10 pm


Do you know if the CISPA rule will allow them to not only label you as an enemy, but also turn on your PC camera to watch you as well?

spocko April 21st, 2013 at 3:14 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 40

What!?! Link to relevant section please!

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Lots of good questions about CISPA. Here’s a link to the Free Press statement on the House vote: http://www.freepress.net/blog/2013/04/18/cispa-passes-house

PeasantParty April 21st, 2013 at 3:17 pm

During research for your book did you have any trouble from the Corporate sector in getting your information?

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 3:19 pm
In response to John Nichols @ 34

This issue is a passion of mine, and John’s too. The longest chapter in the book addresses the crisis of journalism. The Internet did not create the crisis–commercial factors had been chipping away at resources going to news for 25 years– but the Internet has accelerated the process and made it permanent.

In brief: there are probably around 40 percent of the resources going to news today per capita as there were in 1988. A big reason is that advertising support–which accounted for 50-100 percent of news media revenues for the past century depending upon the medium– are disappearing. Internet “smart” advertising no longer supports content. It is one of the major revelations and discussions in the book; it means the idea that the market will produce the quality and quantity of journalism we need is dead. There is no profit to be found.

In the book I chronicle in some depth the various efforts by journalists to monetize what they do and support themselves. It is, to be frank, rather depressing and pathetic to see the hoops journalists are going through to survive, especially when it is hopeless.

The argument I make in the book–similar to the one John and I made in Death and Life of American Journalism– is that journalism is a public good and we will need enlightened public subsidies if we want to have competing independent newsrooms covering our communities and nation. All of the nations routinely ranked in the top 10 as the most democratic nations in the world routinely spend 35-75 times more per capita subsidizing public media and journalism. We need to take a page from their books.

And, ironically, for the first 100 years of American history, before advertising provided the lion’s share of the money to bankroll journalism, that is exactly what the US government did with massive postal and printing subsidies. It is part of the American free press tradition.

PeasantParty April 21st, 2013 at 3:19 pm
In response to spocko @ 41

I can’t give you section right now. I understand it is to be one or two steps further than what they already do with I-Phones, and cell phones.

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 3:23 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 43

For the book I relied of news reports, especially from the trade press and the business press, government documents, other scholars’ studies and research. I drew form my previous research. I also did a lot of interviews with people who are active to clarify issues that were getting short shrift in the press.

I woudl have loved to have been able to get internal documents or insider interviews. But I am pretty confident I have provided an accurate picture; that is the feedback I have gotten form insiders.

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Hey Bob: I think it’s safe to say that you’ve been a little surprised by the level of interest in this new book. There has been a lot written about the Internet but perhaps not enough about the policy debates that shape it. Do you think we are entering a period when folks are beginning to focus in on these concerns — with SOPA, CISPA debates, as well as broader net neutrality debate?

PeasantParty April 21st, 2013 at 3:26 pm

We here at FDL support Independent Journalists. As you know, most of them print their work on internet news journals. This type of journalism as opposed to print is driving print to the internet, but they put up paywalls to read for profit measures. I see this as another step to rig the market sector against free and open news. There is no real free market as the politicians tell us when we the people have been harmed. They always use that “free market” meme. From where I sit, there is also no free internet as the ISP charges keep going up at the same time freedom is taken away.

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 3:29 pm
In response to cocktailhag @ 37

In the book I develop this point. There is the official catechism about “free market” capitalism that we are taught and that the politicians all invoke. This is a mostly fictitious world of small business, competition, fairness, efficiency and justice. The people who work the hardest do the best and everyone has a fair shot.

I contrast that with “really existing capitalism,” which is a world of numbing and growing inequality, gigantic monopolies, political corruption that has rendered genuine self-government impossible, brain-dead hyper-commercialism, rampant unchecked militarism, collapsing infrastructure and public services, economic stagnation, and increasing hopelessness. That is the real world.

PeasantParty April 21st, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Thank you. I often use the Library of Congress site at Thomas.gov to read and track congressional bills. You may find this site helpful.


John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 3:30 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 48
PeasantParty April 21st, 2013 at 3:34 pm
In response to John Nichols @ 51

Thank You.

So are there other ways that you know of that we the people can stop this encroachment and try to retain some freedom of speech on the internet?

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 3:39 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 52

Here’s a link to some of what Free Press is doing. It’s not the only group that is engaged in vital work on these issues but this is one Bob and I have been engaged with — and obviously respect.

Link: http://www.savetheinternet.com/sti-home

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Hey Bob: Is there anyone is Congress who you think “gets” the media issues, especially as regards the Internet? Who should people be keeping an eye on?

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 3:41 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 48

I believe solving the issue of supporting journalism is an existential one for our society, and every other nation as well.

In Digital Disconnect I further embellish the proposal Nichols and I made in Death and Life. We took the idea from Dean Baker, the great economist who writes for FDL, and call it the citizenship news voucher.

Basically, we think the government should allow every American over 18 to allocate $200 to any non-profit and non-commercial operation she wishes,. The $200 can go to one group or be split between several different groups, as long at the groups meet IRS criteria. The key is tat anything a group that receives these vouchers produces must be made available to the public online for free immediately. It will enter the public domain and not be protected by copyright.

In the book I kick around how this might play it and I cannot type fast enough to go through the nuances here.

For a site like FDL, look at it this way. If FDL could get 10,000 people to give it their $200 vouchers it woudl have an annual budget of $2 million. FDL woudl no longer run any ads as part of the deal, but imagine what it could do with $2 million. For starters, a lot of people could make a decent living as writers.

The genius of the proposal is that it is a massive government subsidy without the government controlling where the money goes. It is “viewpoint neutral” as the lawyers say. It also produces competition in a non-commercial sense. Very good competition to always produce good material or lose support.

PeasantParty April 21st, 2013 at 3:43 pm
In response to John Nichols @ 53

Thanks Again!

Robert, in the remaining time can you give a little more detail on the Corporate view of the internet. I know that people will want to buy your book from this conversation at the Salon.

tuezday April 21st, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Bob, I haven’t read your book and don’t know if you discuss this, since it doesn’t relate to the internet per se, but data storage, what about personal control of your own computer? Twenty years ago when I bought my first Mac, I had total control of what programs and processes were on the computer and what was running, and even with XP, I could turn off a bunch of junk and life was actually better. But now, Vista’s got 85 processes running and the only legit ones in my mind are Firefox, the OS (bare bones would be ideal) and AVG. My iPod Touch? I can’t remove preinstalled programs I have no use for and turning it off doesn’t clear the cache!! Why would anyone do banking on a device when they can’t control what info it is storing?!!

It seems over time, we have less and less control over our own devices? I imagine this is a feature and not a bug, but it causes my tin foil hat to develop static. Do you discuss this at all?

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 3:46 pm
In response to John Nichols @ 54

There are several members who are terrific, though mostly back-benchers. I hesitate to name names only because I will probably leave out some terrific people who should be included in any list.

But some of the best people include Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

PeasantParty April 21st, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Nice proposal! It reminds me of crowd sourcing for other projects, but we normally leave the government out of handling the money. I guess I could liken that to a co-operative style environment.

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Bob is typing with abandon. We’ve got about 15 more minutes left and several questions on deck. If anyone else has a question, now’s the time to submit it.

cmaukonen April 21st, 2013 at 3:53 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 8

This would definitely be a starting point. The biggest problem I would see would be FCC wanting to put a stop to it. But WIFI is a frequency hooping mode and more difficult to keep track of. And MESH networks do not require that a particulate device be online 100% to operate effectively. That is one of their strong points.

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 3:53 pm
In response to tuezday @ 57

Terrific questions/observations.

The endless search for killer profits has pushed the dominant monopoly corporations to do some or all of the following:

1. privatize the digital experience; e.g. the iPhone which is basically a private network where all the material is held by Apple and.or the cartel;

2. collect as much information surreptitiously on Internet users so advertising can be directed at them;

3. shift the storage of data to enormous “clouds” controlled by the giants rather on one’s own devise. This is not necessarily a bad thing in principle. It can be dangerous when there are only a few clouds and they are privately owned and controlled.

All of these developments have turned the Internet on its head from the promise of two decades ago,

cocktailhag April 21st, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Thanks for an informative, though unfinished discussion. I look forward to your book; I’ve liked the other ones. And a shout-out to John, a requirement for an Ed Schultz fan like myself.

BevW April 21st, 2013 at 3:54 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,

Bob, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book.

John, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Bob’s website(s) (Univ Illinois) (Free Press) and book (Digital Disconnect)

John’s website (Free Press)(The Nation) and (Twitter)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

FDL Book Salon has a Facebook page too

John Nichols April 21st, 2013 at 3:59 pm

As we wrap up, I want to thank everyone who participated in this discussion. The range of questions, and the depth of concern, suggests that the issues Bob is touching on in his book are hot-button concerns for net-savvy Americans. Our job is to spread the discussion and assure that everyone knows they have a place in the debate about the Internet, and in the struggle to address the Digital Disconnect.

Thanks again to everyone who asked questions and added comments.

Thanks to Bob for rapid response.

And thanks to Bev and the FdL team for inviting us to the Lake.

tuezday April 21st, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Way back when, maybe 10 years ago, I used to email myself about products I wanted to buy in order to get google ads. I had no problem with that. But what is going on now, it’s way too much data retention. And the fact that banking and other really personal info is stored forever, I’m not participating to the extent possible.

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 4:00 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 56

Corporate America sees the Internet as the center of capitalism. The fact that 13 or 14 of the most valuable publicly traded companies in the USA are Internet firms speaks volumes. Only three of the 32 largest firms are the “too big to fail” banks that we all know basically own the government outright.

This is why the book concludes with the truth: if we are going to substantially change the Internet we are really talking about substantially changing if not ending really existing capitalism. It is a reform moment of that magnitude. The question is whether we are going to take these revolutionary technologies and develop a humane sustainable democratic economy or whether we will continue on this mindless path toward nowhere desirable.

PeasantParty April 21st, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Thanks everyone. I have tweeted this Salon out to followers. Sure hope the book sales go up!

CTuttle April 21st, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Mahalo Nui Loa, Bob and John, keep up the good fight…!

Btw, John, I’d like to see a whole lot more of ya on MSNBC, has Chris Hayes asked you to appear yet…? ;-)

Robert W. McChesney April 21st, 2013 at 4:01 pm
In response to John Nichols @ 65

Thanks to everyone. Stay in touch.

PeasantParty April 21st, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Agreed! We have to for our own survival!

Thanks again.

virtualnaut April 21st, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Sorry I missed much of this fascinating discussion. Am in process of reading the book and find interesting the discussion of Internet values and commercialization. To wit: “the problem of how to make the Internet advertising friendly bewildered and obsessed Madison Avenue for much of the 1990s … This conflict was a test of what values would drive the course of the Internet. … Advertising won, and the hyper commercialization of our culture proceeds swiftly.” (P 45)

Jeff Kaye April 21st, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Sorry I missed this vital Book Salon. I’m very glad and appreciative it even happened. I’ll be reading the comments and getting the book. Thanks Bev and John.

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