Best keynote of the year so far: Sascha Meinrath on Policy Hacking


Instead of demanding fundamental changes, too often we have donned chains of silver and declared ourselves free. How else can we fool ourselves into declaring that everything from AT&T and Verizon’s networks, to the iPhone and the Android phone to be open? Open, really [laughs], not at all – how is it that we’re allowing functionality and fair use to be further and further inhibited by Windows, Mac and mobile device operating systems? Whatever happened to the notion of unbundled services through common carriage? What else is cloud computing, today’s big buzzword, if not a modern equivalent for mainframes and dumb terminals, a decades old business model for centralization and control?


Unfortunately, media creation and the documentation and telling of our stories without the information dissemination component are entirely impotent. When Malcolm Matson asked the question, “Who will control local connectivity,” he exposed the fundamental question facing civil society at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Because what I learned quite quickly is that even when we created media, and documented local injustices, we had no means in our local community to disseminate this vital information to the rest of our local community. In essence, we were locked out of a public discourse. We were locked out, systematically disenfranchised from the media.

It will be well worth your time reading this keynote given recently at eComm 2009, it’s a warning against falling asleep at the wheel, thinking that, because we can communicate amongst ourselves, we automatically affect mainstream society and predatory policy making, without having to do the dirty work of policy hacking and political engagement.

Technological determinism has never worked, and never will, warns Sascha, calling for engagement against strong drives to neuter internet decentralisation.

Sascha Meinhart, a short excerpt:

“Lest we all drink too deeply from the draught of technological determinism, and declare victory is at hand, another word of caution; there is this massive behind-the-scenes, epic, political battle being waged inside the beltway, right now, between the forces that want to create this more open, distributed, participatory media and telecommunications future and those who favor a centralized, command and control regime, a reinstitution of command and control in all of these new media in telecommunications systems.

The threats we are currently facing in Washington, D.C., are quite daunting. My hope is that with history as our guide, and your active involvement and support, they are entirely surmountable. However, our vigilance is already waning. Too often, we are being lulled into this false sense of our own security. Yet, the re-institutionalization of centralization is all around us, even today.

As Mark Roettgering rightfully pointed out, vertical and horizontal conglomerization of media and telecommunications are at an unprecedented level. Tax and subsidy structures, from e-rates, to the universal service fund and inter-carrier compensation; anticompetitive mandates, for example, state laws preventing municipalities from deploying telecommunications networks, and slap lawsuits against those that legally do so, and the elimination from AUP free access over dumb networks are eroding any semblance we once may have had to a healthy and fair market.”

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