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Michel Bauwens
25th May 2011

* Book / Report: Fast Thinking. a Research and Education Network Renaissance. Gordon Cook. Volume XIX, No.s 11-12, XX, No.s 1-5 February – August 2011

(To receive the URL for downloading the entire book,(twenty dollars US via paypal) fill out the request here)

Gordon Cook, who is the driver of a network of communications infrastructure experts via the Internet Cook Report, a mailing list and newsletter, has published a very in-depth overview of the “other internet”. This is the internet that is used to drive massive collaboration global innovation in science and technology. However, it is far from being a technical report, but poses all the important issues posed by an infrastructure for mass collaboration, and all the social and political issues that are involved in building it.

In our second serialization of the summary of this work, we focus on the two middle sections. Gordon describes the US UCAN network, a huge federal project, and how local institutions and communities that serve the public good, can or should benefit from it.

* Part III. Leaving the Ivory Tower: The R&E Networks Married to Political Reality

“Faced with the destructive and largely unpunished corruption of Goldman Sachs and its Wall Street siblings, many may decide to question any national concept of justice, and to focus on their own local economy. When doing that, they should give the US UCAN network (as a concept at least) a good strong look — and perhaps an investment of their own time. As the corporate nation state is, as far as the rest of us are concerned, hollowed out, political and legal power is swinging back toward state control. If you are not part of the plutocracy, you are on your own. Good luck. Therefore grassroots progressives who are Internet savvy and peer-to-peer savvy and who see nothing wrong with hard work and self-reliance have little choice but to regroup into focusing on strengthening their local economies and making the places where they live as resilient as possible. Any and all of us who are involved with our local schools, our libraries, our hospitals, our local government or cultural institutions will have a stake in US UCAN.

The global R&E network collaboration system in many respects can be thought of as a replacement for the old government-sponsored Advanced Projects Research Agency (ARPA). Driven by the emphasis on short-term profits that has resulted from the financialization of our economy, only a relatively small handful of highly complex technology giants maintain meaningful R&D facilities on their own. The government gives universities the money. They do the research and the results are immediately privatized.

But we are at a tipping point. Our university system with its tuition priced increasingly out of reach can choose to downsize and exist only for the elite in the United States. Or with the emergence of US UCAN, it can make a decision to work with a broader range of grassroots progressives to showcase the amazing achievements of the research and education network community. In doing so, it must focus on showing the 200,000 community anchor institutions what the best of this as-yet poorly-understood, collaboration-based, global operating system can do.

As readers should imagine, all this is evolving rapidly. Fast Thinking – published on April 25th 2011 covered as much information on US UCAN as I could get by April 23. In the one month since then it has become clear to me that Internet 2 is not interested in outside input. It is huge, rigid, insular and bureaucratic. Nevertheless the Feds are spending approximately 1.5 billion dollars on US UCAN and its infrastructure. Right or wrong, the money is being spent. Activists need to be aware of what is happening and, since the top down pathways are not open to outsiders, activists need to engage with it bottom up from within their own communities. The schools, libraries, hospitals and so on are their community institutions – in theory US UCAN is being built to serve these community institutions. The reality appears to be that within the next 12 to 24 months, US UCAN — depending on where activists happen to live — will be done. Bottom up activity must happen NOW before US UCAN reaches your neighborhood.

I have written Fast Thinking from the point of view of the kind of US UCAN I would build were I in charge. Of course I am NOT in charge and there are many many other issues such as the operational business model that have the potential to affect the recipients of the federal largesse. The first steps of the business model process are may be found here. A major issue is how to pay for the costs of operation once everything is in place. That is something that those who are interested in living in resilient communities should pay careful attention to because US UCAN, done right, can be a key enabler of resilient communities. This is my contention in Fast Thinking and it remains so today.

Ask Yourself Where You Stand

The choice will define our future. Ask yourself where you stand. As for myself, I would like to see these technologies given a decentralized and grassroots greenfield on which to grow. The most critical question is to ascertain whether they can be used to strengthen local economies. Such local economies must begin to grow in order to replace the discredited global financial system and the kind of capitalism based on the end of endless production of goods backed by merchandising marketing and an environmentally destructive, throwaway culture.

Our option is to unlock all sorts of hitherto unimagined possibilities in education, in complex systems modeling and in the understanding needed to cope with ecological change and the ability to micro-manufacture in one’s local community and potentially reverse the worst effects of two centuries of industrialization.

I want to spread an awareness and understanding of what these new cooperative, collaborative tools can bring to several thousands of otherwise isolated communities. To pretend that the Washington Wall Street “Nexus” will be able to endlessly engage in grabbing more and more wealth for two or three per cent of the entire population without an upheaval occurring sooner or later, is outstanding foolishness. What is left of the American middle class understands that something is wrong. I am looking to ally with a thoughtful and empathic group of people many of whom have now grown up with the Internet and are very creatively using it to establish a critique of what capitalism has become and try to build a more sound sustainable society themselves.

For local communities to become self sustaining, access to this network infrastructure and to this emerging collaborative tool set as a viable operating system is critical. The next critical question I see is how many of these tools can be copied by users of the US UCAN network who are interested in the economic development within what they call the open knowledge commons?

How Many of the High End Tools Can be Copied in US UCAN Connected Communities

We shall not get a good answer to this question without being informed. I hope that this book provides the basic information to start that process. When the next meltdown hits, we better hope that US UCAN is in place. Our communities will need it and there will be rafts of unemployed and under employed people that find strategic direction from the peer-to-peer movement which has, I contend, a much more sound agenda that the Washington, Wall Street Military Complex that some are beginning to speak of as a “nexus.” This “nexus” which in its unreconstructed Cold War guise seems to demand an enemy from which it has to protect us. We have now a half century of the military industrial complex against which Eisenhower warned us. Moloch like, it demands to be fed and, if one enemy disappears, it finds a new one. After all it took less than ten years for fear of Communists to be replaced by fear of radical Islam. There is no strategy, no national narrative. In looking at the opportunity of US UCAN, that absence of strategy needs to be fixed.

In 1913 a warning shot against the triumph of industrial era finance

Charles A. Beard’s Economic Interpretation of the Constitution was published in 1913, the year of the founding of the Federal Reserve that, for the first time, established a central banking system in the US. In retrospect this marked the triumph of the Hamiltonian, one government, one currency, one bank system, the ground work for which was established in 1787 and perhaps served us well through industrialization. But one may now argue – post industrialization, that a swing in the Jeffersonian direction is long over due.

A Hamiltonian world is not sustainable. This is a decision and realization that we shall have to reach on a community-by-community basis. Beard’s 1913 work offers an argument with an overtone familiar to the framing of post 2008 meltdown discussions. First, in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913) and then in An Economic Interpretation of Jeffersonian Democracy (1915) he extended an earlier hypothesis in terms of class conflict. In these two books Beard examined American history from the 1776 Revolution to the election of Jefferson in 1800. To Beard, the Constitution was a counter-revolution, set up by rich bond holders (bonds were “personal property”), in opposition to the farmers and planters (land was “real property.”) The Constitution, Beard argued, was designed to reverse the radical democratic tendencies unleashed by the Revolution among the common people, especially farmers and debtors (people who owed money to the rich). In 1800, said Beard, the farmers and debtors, led by plantation slave owners, overthrew the capitalists and established Jeffersonian democracy.

See An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.

It is clear now however that power is moving from a discredited Washington DC back to the states. From the center to the edge and it is the edge which the internet is so well set up to serve. But let me add that the global cooperative operating system that this book describes will function best applied to the problems of ecology and climate change, alternative energy, life sciences — in short the huge global problems that most seriously are bearing down on us. This ethos and culture of collaboration and cooperation is what is needed – yea demanded by the future.

* Part IV. Needed – a US UCAN Strategy

The Current System Does not Value What is worthy of Value

As long as the US continues its current course, the affordability of education at the research universities for any but the children of elite comes into question. And as John Seely Brown points out in his emerging trilogy, the increased speed of continued technology change demands reform of education. The collaborative systems outlined here must become the foundation of future education. The Ivy league offers scarcity of degree and not necessarily a difference in quality. Kevin Carson who writes his books from northwestern Arkansas on a dial up connection — books worthy of a PhD from any Ivy League school. US UCAN must put a firm foundation under the Kevin Carsons of America.

I further argue that the most critical part of the future of US UCAN are our public libraries that must become the environments used by local scholars, small businesses, and local “makers” and “fabers” who for example will need the ability to ship designs larger than ten megabits to 3d printers. The commercial ISPs (telcos and cable cos) are incapable of understanding this new world. And that is just fine. But I also argue that, if the libraries don’t get it, they shall put themselves out of business by not getting it.

Inevitably there will be the: ”this is ready for privatization and commercialization” cry. The schools and especially the libraries must have a sustainable funding model but they also must never give in to the privatizers. The minute this were to happen I argue that the whole raison d’etre of US UCAN would be destroyed because the legal duty of the corporation is to suck money as profits for shareholder out of every community robbing them all of the ability to be sustainable an resilient in the face of the next collapse of the Central Banks and Wall Street. Public libraries were founded to serve their local communities and NOT the Barons of private equity.

Obama’s home town of Chicago sold its parking meters to a private company that now gets the cash flow, some of which it shares with the city, but the bargain is treacherous because, if the city ever wants to close a street for a street fair, it is in the contract that the city must pay the absentee owners for the missed revenue. If the library community doesn’t get the business model right in each community, it will one day soon be invited to commercialize and it will find something like a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs that puts a parking meter on each US UCAN terminal and predator like will continually raise rates to keep the bond holders at bay. They will do this while automating the facilities with VOIP to India to replace American librarians with workers less capable but cheaper on behalf of the absent corporate masters.

What Might the Real US UCANN Strategy Be?

When the Wall Street crashed and Obama was elected, he persuaded Congress to approve the stimulus plan and obtained authorization to spend billions via the ARRA act to put people back to work. Almost seven billion was allocated to telecom. NTIA and RUS were charged to do something about broadband. But what? The White House didn’t know precisely because other fires were burning. It was not until late December 2009 and early January 2010 that the White House OSTP was contacted via the broadband plan commission and said: why not let Internet 2 and NLR know that they should work directly together on a proposal for a backbone for a United States Community Anchor Institution Network. If we got fiber a lot closer to schools and libraries, we could get more bang-for-the-buck with the annual subsidy they get through the schools and library program of the Universal Service Fund. Hmmmm. Wouldn’t you know?

It is conceivable that the basic premise behind US UCAN is nothing more profound that this. Carry on as before with the subsidies for the telcos. What might the real strategy be? All that is overtly clear is a panicked “here is some money – quick go spend it.” It is urgent that Internet 2, as they roll out US UCAN, think big and recognize the potential that I have outlined. Potential that I doubt the White House was aware of. Of course US UCAN must get built as specified, but built with a broad strategic vision.

Instead of submitting to eventual commercialization, public libraries under US UCAN should choose to become community invested gateways to self-reliance. These institutions, instead of drawling people to the big cities, should show every town how to use the internet not for its commercial web and porn but rather to show what is available throughout the nation and the world in the way of knowledge and learning. The US UCAN libraries must use this network to give their communities access to science, and to the arts in a world where the size of the window is not dictated by demands stockholder scarcity. We are now in the very decade when a century ago most of the Carnegie libraries were built The self-service stacks pioneered by these libraries should be copied a century later with librarians as mentors to users and then working in learning teams in a manner analogous to the ideas of John Seely Brown in his book, A New Culture of Learning.

Give the towns something that the telcos and cablecos could have given had their profit oriented horizons been capable of seeing more than 90 days into the future. Enable each community to discover what is in its own interest. Encourage communities to compete in terms of interdependence and sustainability. Do not allow distant corporations who, absent government money showed no interest, to come in and exploit them.

An inflection point stands not far down the road. We must realize that it is there and unite in our local communities to send the message “Don’t Tread on Me” to the distant predators. The message of self-reliance and independence should be that which occupies the packet flows of US UCAN. This tech is not that hard. If we understand its value — and the weekend Democracy Camps can help with that — we can and must take control of the technology and use it on behalf of each US UCAN community.

In October 2010 Steve Wolff, now the newly appointed interim CTO for Internet2, gave the major presentation. He called it “Reflections on the Pickle We’re In.” Steve said that “commercializing the NSFnet was a great idea,” but that “privatizing it was not.” As Steve put it “the NSF should’ve believed in itself” and “realized that as R&E became an ever smaller fraction of the business, it would have an ever diminishing voice in the service it received.” Trying to be upbeat Steve concluded that “the good news is we are not alone. Expanded role for the NRENs is becoming common.” Then (in a statement that I cannot overemphasize how strongly I agree with) he concludes “that it is easier to hold a centrally funded not-for-profit to its social obligations than to subvert the investor focus of a Corporation.”

(To receive the URL for downloading the entire book,(twenty dollars US via paypal) fill out the request here)

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