Deborah Runkle: First Armando Valdez, who is the founder of LatinoNet. He is a Doctor of Communications, and a schol­ar in the Bay Area. He cur­rent­ly has a fel­low­ship where he is study­ing access and equi­ty on the infor­ma­tion high­way for peo­ple of col­or.

Armando Valdez: Thank you. I’m hap­py to be here. I think this is a very impor­tant ses­sion, for a num­ber of rea­sons. I think it’ll be a lit­tle more evi­dent as I con­tin­ue talk­ing.

Let me tell you a lit­tle bit about the kind of work I do and some the assump­tions that frame the work I do. Actually it’s two very sim­ple assump­tions, to me very obvi­ous assump­tions that you may or may not agree with.

First assump­tion is that infor­ma­tion indeed is pow­er. The abil­i­ty to access infor­ma­tion. The abil­i­ty to use infor­ma­tion. The knowl­edge that it may bring and may offer is indeed some­thing very empow­er­ing.

The oth­er premise is a soci­o­log­i­cal premise. And that is that in this soci­ety, as is true of most oth­er human soci­eties, we have an expe­ri­ence, a phe­nom­e­na, that we call strat­i­fi­ca­tion. That means that we’re not all at the top, we’re not all at the bot­tom, we’re just sor­ta spread out. And what’s impor­tant about that is that in some soci­eties we have a soci­o­log­i­cal process called struc­tur­al inequal­i­ty.

Structural inequal­i­ty means that we orga­nize our sys­tem in ways that some peo­ple have more access, some peo­ple are more empow­ered than oth­ers by virtue of where they are in that struc­ture. It’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly a sta­t­ic mod­el but nonethe­less it begins to explain some dif­fer­ences, qual­i­ta­tive­ly, quan­ti­ta­tive­ly, about the kind of soci­ety we have.

Now, those are impor­tant premis­es that frame my work sim­ply because we right now are, in my view, on the cusp of a very impor­tant phenomenon—that is we are trans­form­ing the infra­struc­ture to the next-generation tech­nol­o­gy. We’re mov­ing from ana­log to dig­i­tal. We talk about it. This group I think I’m sure is very aware of that phe­nom­e­na. But in terms of deploy­ing that tech­nol­o­gy, it’s gonna be com­ing out of the test­beds, out of the spe­cial­ized groups, into mass soci­ety.

So it’s an his­toric moment. I think it’s very impor­tant that we look and we think about the kind of infor­ma­tion soci­ety we would like to par­tic­i­pate in and that we would like to cre­ate. And that to me is why this con­fer­ence is so impor­tant. I think we need to not make assump­tions but rather be crit­i­cal of where we are as a soci­ety, be crit­i­cal of what we are as indi­vid­ual pro­fes­sion­als, as well as indi­vid­ual mem­bers of the soci­ety.

I’ve been con­cerned not sim­ply with ques­tions of access but also ques­tions of equi­ty. Again, the point about struc­tur­al inqual­i­ty and strat­i­fi­ca­tion. I left the acad­e­my actu­al­ly five years ago to begin work­ing in a more applied set­ting doing dif­fer­ent kinds of things. And one of the things that I’ve done that I’m proud­est of is LatinoNet, and I’ll talk for maybe one minute about that and pass the mic on to my col­leagues.

We began to wres­tle with a ques­tion of equi­ty and access to infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy. We were aware of the phe­nom­e­nal growth and phe­nom­e­nal pow­er of the Internet and that tech­nol­o­gy; online ser­vices. So we began to think about how do we find a way to see that this tech­nol­o­gy does not trick­le down to our communities—Latino com­mu­ni­ties. Because we indeed need access to the infor­ma­tion knowl­edge net­works of the future to empow­er com­mu­ni­ties.

And the approach was to real­ly do a ground-up orga­niz­ing process. We incu­bat­ed the con­cept here in the Bay Area. We invit­ed, in an open demo­c­ra­t­ic process, all Latino non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions to work with us. Of the two hun­dred and some-some odd, fifty of them signed on, lit­er­al­ly to work with us for a year. To first of all learn about net­work tech­nol­o­gy and sec­ond­ly to use that knowl­edge to design a sys­tem. And that’s the way LatinoNet grew.

We had some notions of what need­ed to be there, the kinds of infor­ma­tion, the kind of fea­tures. The kind of inter­face, the kind of costs. And the kind of sup­port that was need­ed and train­ing that was need­ed to make this hap­pen. We then took that con­cept and took it to Los Angeles region, which is the coun­try’s largest Latino population—Latino urban area. And we debugged it; we learned a lot. We learned about pol­i­tics. We learned about the fit between social eco­nom­ic polit­i­cal needs and tech­nol­o­gy and so forth.

November of last year we launched LatinoNet as a pub­lic… Rather—I’m sor­ry. We pub­licly launched it, but LatinoNet is a pri­vate area on America Online. And the con­cept of LatinoNet real­ly is to try to not only pro­vide access to the tech­nol­o­gy so peo­ple can use infor­ma­tion on the net or what­ev­er, but to pro­vide a very rich infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment, where infor­ma­tion that is rel­e­vant for Latinos resides. But beyond that also an envi­ron­ment through which Latinos can become not only con­sumers of infor­ma­tion but pro­duc­ers as well.

To us it’s a real­ly key con­cept. You know, tech­nol­o­gy is sim­ply a tool. Getting access to com­put­ers is won­der­ful. And we now are com­mit­ted to find ways to raise mon­ey to actu­al­ly pro­vide modems, not to every sin­gle home but to Latino non­prof­its that serve their com­mu­ni­ties. We iden­ti­fy non­prof­its as essen­tial­ly not only the ser­vice providers but the advo­cates, the care­tak­ers, the edu­ca­tors, of the com­mu­ni­ty. And we think that that’s a place to start.

So we’re embarked on a grand voy­age to try to make a dif­fer­ence in a sig­nif­i­cant way. In my view, the solu­tions right now are not com­ing from the uni­ver­si­ties. The solu­tions are not com­ing from gov­ern­ment. I find the most cre­ative and refresh­ing solu­tions com­ing from folks like your­self and folks in the com­mu­ni­ty that have some needs that band togeth­er and cre­ate part­ner­ships. And I want to encour­age all of you here to try to find a way to pen­e­trate that vir­tu­al real­i­ty, the sort of…the wide computer…cyber world, and you know, go to the real real­i­ty. Go out and con­nect with peo­ple out there that can use this won­der­ful tech­nol­o­gy and find a way for you to become a part­ner, become a change agent in that process.


Deborah Runkle: Next is Cynthia Harvey. She’s a Professor of com­put­er sci­ence and as a mat­ter of fact was the founder of the Computer Science depart­ment at Morgan State University, which is a tra­di­tion­al­ly black uni­ver­si­ty in the Baltimore area. She is also affil­i­at­ed with the Goddard Space Center and runs a Internet ser­vice and brings minority—particularly African-American—scientists and space sci­en­tists togeth­er. She has been a pio­neer woman engi­neer and math­e­mati­cian and has a lot of firsts before her name—in almost every job she has she’s been the first.

Cynthia Harvey: The title of the ses­sion is A Net for All: Where Are the Minorities?” And I think those of us who can see will look around and prob­a­bly have asked ever since you got here, Yes, where are they?” Because since I’ve been here—and I got here Tuesday—they’re not too many iden­ti­fi­able ones. Of course we can’t always go by what we see. But the ques­tion cer­tain­ly is rel­e­vant about where are the minori­ties.

I think at least we can say as far as the minori­ties of African-American descent that there are a few of them here, very few. And I’ve been to the Internet Conference, the ACM con­fer­ences. IEEE, [DTMA?], and all of these con­fer­ences and…they’re not there.

Further—I think we all agree to that. Further, I think most of us would agree to the fact that the Internet is going to exac­er­bate the dis­par­i­ty between the haves and the have nots. There’ve been many ses­sions on that since I’ve been here at this con­fer­ence. So I think we all agree to that. Where there seems to be a great dis­agree­ment is what is to be done about it and who is respon­si­ble. I have been in a state of shock ever since I went to the Grace Hopper Conference last year, where when the ques­tion came up about what should be done about it, every­body at that con­fer­ence seemed to’ve thought noth­ing much.” That it was up to each group to take care of itself. And that’s easy to say but not nec­es­sar­i­ly easy to do.

Now, I think every­one has a stake in see­ing that all of the cit­i­zens of this coun­try have access. This does­n’t mean you give them some­thing but at least that it’s made pos­si­ble for them to have access. And I don’t say this because I think we’re all good fel­lows, or that we will feel guilty and there­fore we want to…you know, some peo­ple feel guilty about the thing about the forty acres and a mule, you did­n’t get it so maybe we should give you some­thing. I don’t think that any of those rea­sons apply. I think every­one has a stake in it and should be involved, pure­ly out of self-interest.

Maybe most of you have heard, and it came up at the end of the last cen­sus in 1990, that it’s antic­i­pat­ed that by the turn of the cen­tu­ry, the year 2000, that the pop­u­la­tion of the United States will be one-third minori­ties. And at the time that was stat­ed in 1990, every­one said, Well, that gives us ten years to see what we need to do to pre­pare for this even­tu­al­i­ty.” But I say uh, wake up, hel­lo, lit­tle look around, this is 1995. And that’s less than five years away, there­fore some­thing needs to be done and I don’t think that enough is being done to address the issues and look at the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

One of the things I see is the dan­ger is that while a num­ber of the peo­ple here and oth­ers like us (I’ll include myself in that) are off in cyber­space expe­ri­enc­ing a vir­tu­al real­i­ty. But there are a lot of peo­ple and a grow­ing num­ber of them, who are exist­ing in real time, and in real space, expe­ri­enc­ing real hard­ships, and real real­i­ty. Many of these peo­ple may be becom­ing more and more alien­at­ed and more and more dis­en­fran­chised or dis­en­chant­ed, becom­ing more more sep­a­rate eco­nom­i­cal­ly and social­ly. And the last ses­sion brought this up, too, about the change in the social and the eco­nom­ic posi­tion of these peo­ple that is becom­ing fur­ther and fur­ther sep­a­rat­ed.

And these peo­ple are per­haps cry­ing out for a piece of the pie while we’re off in cyber­space. And if we aren’t aware, we can, as our sys­tem could be, endan­gered by this kind of activ­i­ty. So I would sug­gest that we all have an inter­est in see­ing that all of our peo­ple have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to par­tic­i­pate and to grow, and to be edu­cat­ed in these mod­ern tech­ni­cal activ­i­ties.

And of course, it’s been stat­ed that by the decade of 2010 that that one-third per­cent will be even larg­er. Now, this is not to say noth­ing is being done; cer­tain­ly there are things being done. But since most peo­ple are not involved in what’s being done, the ques­tion I would like to answer is what can each of us do?

Well one thing, if we know some of the activ­i­ties that are going on, then there may be pos­si­bil­i­ties that we can sup­port some of them, or we can see that they grow or con­tin­ue to have access. For instance, I’m work­ing with a pro­gram spon­sored by Goddard Space Flight Center called MU-SPIN, or Minority University—Space Interdisciplinary Network. And I find it inter­est­ing when peo­ple say we don’t need to help any­one, because you can pull your­self up by your boot­straps. But in my expe­ri­ence in going to some of these small his­tor­i­cal­ly black col­leges who are respon­si­ble for train­ing peo­ple, and find­ing that some of them don’t even have boot­straps. I won’t go into the details on that, but if you again want to know more about it I would be hap­py to answer some ques­tions.

There’s also been a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation-sponsored con­fer­ence on African-Americans in the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion age. And things like this ought to be encour­aged and sup­port­ed, as opposed to what’s been pro­posed in Washington now, which is to cut back on that par­tic­u­lar group’s abil­i­ty to hold those kind of con­fer­ences by not pro­vid­ing any fed­er­al funds. That may be okay but at least maybe we can encour­age some of the pri­vate foun­da­tions to sup­port those kind of activ­i­ties.

The National Science Foundation has some ini­tia­tives and there are many ini­tia­tives going on, which if you need more infor­ma­tion or desire I would be hap­py to pro­vide. Thank you.


Deborah Runkle: Next is Randy Ross, who is from the Native American com­mu­ni­ty and has been active in a whole vari­ety of issues. Cultural activ­i­ties, art activ­i­ties, and most inter­est­ing­ly and the rea­son he’s here is the very active use of the Internet that has been made by the Native American com­mu­ni­ty.

Randy Ross: Cante wasteya nape ciyuza­pe­lo. I come to you from Rapid City, South Dakota in the Black Hills. I’m glad to be here.

Language is an inter­est­ing thing, isn’t it? And I think com­ing into the 21st cen­tu­ry and the infor­ma­tion age, we’re look­ing at trib­al com­mu­ni­ties are still deal­ing with this issue of cul­tur­al sur­vival. And when I look onto the reser­va­tions and the com­mu­ni­ties that are there, there’s a lot to be pro­tect­ed. A lot that needs to be val­ued. And there’s a lot about the com­mu­ni­ties that are there that some­how we have to work a lit­tle bit hard­er to meet these new chal­lenges that we’re being faced with.

And it’s my under­stand­ing that this group had a chance to lis­ten to Jerry Mander the oth­er day, and actu­al­ly that was one of the ear­li­er works that start­ed inspired and trig­ger some of my think­ing. And this par­tic­u­lar book was [In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations]. And I don’t know how many of you read it but I sug­gest you read it. It’s a book that talks about the impact of the val­ues, the belief sys­tems, the impact of—in his instance—was the impact of British Broadcasting Corporation being moved into north­ern trib­al groups in Canada who were nev­er pre­vi­ous­ly exposed to broad­cast mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion medi­ums, and to look at the social phe­nom­e­na and exchange, and the impact on the social and cul­tur­al val­ues and whether the pos­i­tives and the neg­a­tives, and how you bal­ance that out.

I think we’re kind of at the same sim­i­lar cross­roads of how do trib­al com­mu­ni­ties view con­verg­ing and emerg­ing, and fast rapid-paced tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ments. How the broad­cast­ing com­mu­ni­ty, as we look at the reg­u­la­to­ry envi­ron­ment that’s mov­ing sup­pos­ed­ly towards a dereg­u­lat­ed con­di­tion. And also the idea about con­tent providers and access. Again, what does all that mean to our trib­al com­mu­ni­ties, and as we look at again the social impact of val­ues?

In the past we looked— You know, to give a broad back­ground… And I have to— Disclaimer here, I’m not a lawyer. But as trib­al com­mu­ni­ties, I can say that Indian peo­ple of any group know so much about gov­ern­ment. You go to the BIA and you get the answers there. We have a whole book called USC Codify 25 devot­ed to Indians. We’re the only group in this coun­try who gets to have a three-inch memen­to about our posi­tion in this coun­try. It gives us a unique posi­tion. I think there’s some­thing that we can share as a com­mu­ni­ty.

But ret­ro­spec­tive­ly, when you look at the Interstate Highway Act, it has not served trib­al nations very well. The idea was plowed right through them, or it went around. Either way you know, we can look at dimin­ished effect, some dis­in­te­gra­tion, and again we talked about—the term came up—cultural integri­ty. These are con­cerns that we have but how do we bal­ance that with the need for eco­nom­ic and com­merce and access to edu­ca­tion­al and med­ical ser­vices and so forth?

Cultural rights I think is some­thing that is inter­wo­ven into our con­cern about how the dig­i­tal future…you know, what are the elec­tron­ic laws that will… How will they view and respect community-based val­ues regard­ing cul­ture prop­er­ties? And in our case, we have a real bat­tle at home about defin­ing what we call inalien­able com­mu­ni­ty prop­er­ties. One indi­vid­ual does not have the right to take an item and go out and sell it on the mar­ket. These are char­ac­ter­is­tics of oth­er trib­al cul­tures as well, but this is something…how do you keep those kinds of things intact so you don’t get…they have the Jerry Mander absence of the sacred” effect impact­ing your com­mu­ni­ty in very adverse ways.

So I think that’s…you know, I just want­ed to kind of point out that the broad frame­work of fed­er­al Indian law and pol­i­cy, there’s still…tribes are look­ing at ways… They are sov­er­eign. I think there’s numer­ous records of statu­to­ry fed­er­al law, judi­cial opin­ions, court doc­u­ments, the Constitution, and the treaties that indi­cate that tribes in all the inter­pre­ta­tion have lim­it­ed the sov­er­eign sta­tus or depen­dant sov­er­eign sta­tus.

But now we’re faced with how do tribes deal with the juris­dic­tion and reg­u­la­tion of elec­tron­ic resources that are with­in the con­fines and the bound­aries of fed­er­al Indian reser­va­tions? And so this is kind of the new chal­lenge. The FCC folks real­ly don’t have an inter­sec­tion in their laws and reg­u­la­tions that real­ly help us under­stand where trib­al rights might begin or end. And so there’s already been some court cas­es. The Fort Mojave tribe in Arizona has already kind of bumped heads with FCC over can they declare them­selves as a cel­lu­lar com­mon car­ri­er provider and apply for licens­es for ser­vices that cov­er their reser­va­tion. Well, the FCC ruled against them, say­ing that sov­er­eign­ty and so forth is not a deter­mined. And the FCC rul­ing says you have to go at it as a minor­i­ty under their def­i­n­i­tions of the 1992 or ‑4 Communications Act amend­ments.

These are real­ly big issues, and I’m not going to be able to cov­er them all for you this morn­ing. But I think that it’s some­thing that kinda…the idea of sov­er­eign­ty reach­es a lot of folks. And even though the native Hawaiians have some issues. The Pacific Islanders. I think as com­mu­ni­ties we look at cul­tur­al rights, cul­tur­al expres­sion… I think there’s an incred­i­ble amount of work that needs to be done, par­tic­u­lar­ly with respect to the intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty and how do we begin to look at some of these incred­i­ble issues that are going to impact our com­mu­ni­ties long-term. So I’ll just kinda…cease and desist on that one, hey?


Deborah Runkle: Art McGee is a par­tic­i­pant in a num­ber of Internet activ­i­ties, includ­ing the Institute for Global Communications, com­put­er net­works such as PeaceNet, EcoNet, LaborNet, and ConflictNet.

Art McGee: I’m sort of…still you know, amazed that I’m even here today because com­pared to a lot of the oth­er folks here I’m sort of you know, just a layper­son. I mean I’m a tech­ni­cal per­son. I’ve been involved with com­put­ers for many years. But in terms of being a net activist or being real­ly heav­i­ly involved in these types of issues I’m new to a lot of this. And it’s sort of an hon­or for me to have been invit­ed to be here and to par­tic­i­pate on this pan­el, and to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak to some of these dif­fer­ent issues.

I’ve most­ly been involved, in addi­tion to being par­tic­u­lar­ly con­cerned about issues deal­ing with com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, I’ve also been par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in the issue of com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­o­gy and how it relates to black and African com­mu­ni­ties, and what dif­fer­ent issues that they may have to wres­tle with in terms of using the tech­nol­o­gy, what effects it could have on their com­mu­ni­ties, both commerce-related effects as well as consumer-related effects. And so this is the some of the work that I’ve been doing.

I want­ed to sort of bring up a few points or some issues that’ve sort of been run­ning through my head late­ly. So maybe you could— I hope the audi­ence could sort of help me out in mulling through these. Because I think there’s some impor­tant con­cepts and things that haven’t real­ly been dealt with prop­er­ly but that sort of through urban leg­end these sort of facts have been passed around, or these absolutes have been passed around and peo­ple say, Oh okay, that’s the way it is.” And say, Yeah, did you know that it’s this way?” And I think that maybe we need to sort of do some more crit­i­cal think­ing about some of these issues.

The first one that comes to mind is the…you know, every­one’s pret­ty much famil­iar with The New Yorker car­toon of the the two dogs sit­ting at a com­put­er ter­mi­nal and one dog is show­ing his friend how great the Internet is. And the computer-literate dog turns to the oth­er dog and says, On the Internet no one knows you’re a dog.”

Well if I had drawn that car­toon, I would have had the oth­er dog turn right back and look back at his friend and say, What’s wrong with being a dog?” [applause] And one of the things is it both­ers me about the whole con­cept, or this whole con­cept of los­ing or being able to lose iden­ti­ty, and it sort of ties in with the need to have sort of a more diverse par­tic­i­pa­tion at a con­fer­ence like this, is that there’s cer­tain issues such as that, that have unique sig­nif­i­cance to minor­i­ty groups” or indi­vid­u­als that oth­er pop­u­la­tions may not be aware of. Whereas say for exam­ple being able to go online and have a lack of clues as to your class, or whether you’re ugly (no offense to any­one in the audi­ence), [laughs; laugh­ter] or you know, gen­der, those are impor­tant.

But in par­tic­u­lar, when you look at how minor­i­ty people—Native Americans, African Americans—have been treat­ed his­tor­i­cal­ly, the issue of iden­ti­ty takes on a par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance. It’s been the cause for death, of being attacked, of being lit­er­al­ly in many cas­es wiped out or hung, or dif­fer­ent sorts of— It’s not just some­thing to play with. It’s not just some­thing that we say, Oh well, I can do this today and tomor­row I’ll be back out in the real world.” And so that’s an issue that I’d hope that when you go away from this pan­el that you’re sort of think­ing about that, and become more aware of the fact that your sort of belief in that idea of being able to assim­i­late or lose the identity…that that sort of desire to do that may not be as wide­ly… What’s the word I’m look­ing? As wide­ly val­ued in the greater soci­ety.

Another issue that comes up, for exam­ple in rela­tion to pri­va­cy, sort of more of a class-related issue. It has to do with the fact that often— And in par­tic­u­lar it’s also racial but it’s sort of class and race com­bined, hav­ing to do with the fact that if you’re poor, and for exam­ple poor peo­ple often have to seek government-related ser­vices more fre­quent­ly than the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion in many cas­es. And that the abil­i­ty to sort of be anony­mous or keep things to your­self, you sort of lose that by default because you don’t have these same options of drop­ping out or stay­ing free, or stay­ing under­ground so to speak. That you’re sort of forced to give out every­thing about your­self, to be tracked, because of the lack of trust of your char­ac­ter or because just sim­ply that’s what’s required of gov­ern­ment report­ing.

And I think that’s some­thing that a lot of peo­ple don’t think about as much or aren’t as aware of. That pri­va­cy issues are some­what dif­fer­ent depend­ing upon social sta­tus or class or race. And I think that’s some­thing that needs to be thought about a lot more.

Another issue has to do with just how his­tor­i­cal­ly tech­nol­o­gy’s been used. Everyone here is you know…it’s sort of ingrained in I guess in American cul­ture to sort of have sort of adver­sar­i­al rela­tion­ship with law enforce­ment or police. But once again, in par­tic­u­lar to minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties, and I can par­tic­u­lar­ly speak for African American com­mu­ni­ties, it’s even a greater sort of ani­mos­i­ty, a sort of greater adver­sar­i­al rela­tion­ship between the gov­ern­ment, law enforce­ment, and how tech­nol­o­gy has been used to track or to con­trol peo­ple. And these are the types of things that need to be looked at a lot clos­er.

One oth­er thing… This is sort of more on the pos­i­tive side, I would say. It’s prob­a­bly pret­ty obvi­ous. Being able, or rather the pow­er of the tech­nol­o­gy to allow peo­ple to express them­selves in ways that they haven’t had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do before. This takes on a par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance for minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties because of the fact that access to the press, access to main­stream media, the abil­i­ty to put out images that are not stereo­typ­i­cal or that are counter to stereo­typ­i­cal images, is some­thing you know— We’ve been sort of bom­bard­ed by these images that are con­trolled by oth­er peo­ple or what they view us as. And so the net has sort of a par­tic­u­lar impor­tance to com­mu­ni­ties of col­or and being able to express ideas, put out images, and do oth­er things that they are con­trol­ling, with­out sort of the tra­di­tion­al media as the mid­dle­man or hav­ing to come crawl­ing to the tra­di­tion­al media all the time in order to have your side of the sto­ry or your view­point expressed.

And one oth­er thing that I want­ed to empha­size, that even though I’m a techie-type per­son and I love com­put­ers and could pret­ty much just sit in front of one and not eat all day, I think that one thing that needs to be empha­sized is that no mat­ter how great all this is one thing that needs to be done and looked at more close­ly is just hav­ing bet­ter basic edu­ca­tion. I think too often we get off on this track of com­put­ers will rev­o­lu­tion­ize this and it will increase learn­ing that, and that you have a group of peo­ple out there who are illit­er­ate or who’re just bare­ly lit­er­ate. All the com­put­ers in the world won’t help them until they’re at least able to read. [applause]

And so I think that’s very impor­tant. It’s for exam­ple one of the rea­sons that no matt— You know, I’m always a big advo­cate of pub­lic radio. No mat­ter how many com­put­ers you have in say a rur­al area or a less-developed coun­try or an inner city, there are always going to be sit­u­a­tions where peo­ple who can’t can read but they can under­stand hear­ing the words over radio. You can always have a tran­sis­tor radio, car­ry­ing with you some­where to receive infor­ma­tion. So we should­n’t just look at the com­put­er as sort of this, Oh this is all we need. We can get rid of every­thing else. We don’t need any oth­er media. It’s all going to be through this and for­get about the rest of it.” [applause]


Deborah Runkle: So with that I'd like to start having some questions for the panelists and then—not very long because I know the time is going—I'd like to open it up to the audience. But first I'd like to ask the panelists if they would elaborate perhaps on some programs that they're aware of either in their organizations or others which are trying to address some of these issues.

Cynthia Harvey: Yes, there are many things going on to try to overcome these problems. One activity that I'm involved with is—and this is a government activity, but I think it's pretty creative. I'm a professor at Morgan State University but because of my thirty years of addressing this problem— (Of course I don't look that old.) But I've been working for thirty years and addressing the problem. And I was invited to come to work with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for two years to work with minority universities. Because one of the ways the majority universities get all of this equipment and get on the network and do all the work that they do is that they get grants from the government to do research. And the minority universities don't get the grants because they don't have anything to attract a grant with.

For instance, NASA says in order for you to get a grant from them to do research you must be on the network so that you can get the data. And once you're on the network and get the data then they'll give you millions of dollars and of course you can buy all the things. But the minority universities weren't connected to the network; therefore, they did not qualify for research grants; therefore they got no money.

So this program, it's called MU-SPIN—Minority University Interdisciplinary Space Network, goes to minority universities and teaches them how to build their own network and how to connect themselves as opposed to going out and buying expensive parts of hiring consultants and these things. And once they can get some kind of infrastructure inside the university and get a network set up in the university, then NASA can guarantee to connect them to the outside world. They can't do any on campus but they can take that connection and take it to the outside. Then they qualify to apply for grants.

We've been to…oh I guess about twenty-five universities so far. And these universities are not just historically black, but it includes the consortium of Native American universities, so we've been to South Dakota and New Mexico. And also the Hispanic institutions, so we've been to Puerto Rico and places like that. And there are quite a few of them in California that are on the list. Most of them we can identify by being Title II schools. And the number of schools now that have qualified for research grants, which means now they can train more people in their areas to learn to use the network.

Now, when the person at that conference said to me that we didn't need to help anyone because the software for getting on the Internet is free, it never occurred to them to know that how did you get that free software that's out there on the network, huh? How do you get it? You have to be on the network to download it. And if you're not on the network you can get the free software. So, that was a big shock. So these are the kinds of things that are happening, if you don't have it you can't get it. So, there need to be ways of empowering people.

Now, one other little thing, I have to put a plug in for myself and I said I've been doing this for thirty years. I used to work in an industry where I made money. And I realized that— [laughter] Really, really. Someone…I had a long conversation about thirty-five years ago with someone saying well with computers coming along—and this was before microcomputers, you know, you had the big things—that this was the opportunity for the African American community to make its mark. Because most immigrant populations when they came over, there was some new thing that came along that they got in on at the beginning and gave them the opportunity to become you know, full-fledged citizens. And I said, "Well geez, the only way I can see doing that—I can't do it where I'm working—is if I go into the university and have an impact on students." So I can at least say by this time I have taught computers science to about…oh, eight thousand students who some are now in industry and some are starting businesses of their own. Some of them are teaching at other universities. So it's like a little pebble, you know, some ripple is going out.

And so each of us has to take the responsibility to do something, whatever was in our power, and then it's within your power to say well they're cutting NASA's budget, tell 'em don't cut MU-SPIN. Or there may be other things that you hear about. You know that we're downsizing but maybe we have to be careful what we cut out when the downside and not cut out all the opportunities that are currently being generated to help people become full-fledged citizens.

Deborah Runkle: Does either of you want to say anything or should we open it to questions?

Armando Valdez: I just…some additional comments. And as a [follow-up?] to some of my opening statements there. And it gets back to the current presidential Internet policy. And I'd just like to see other activities… The Office of Technology Assessment is currently going through a report process for a… Senator Inouye commissioned a study to look at the impact of telecommunications technology on American Indians, Alaska natives, and native Hawaiians, and that study will be completed I believe in May or early June for public distribution and of course to the members of Congress. And there's a great, intense effort to try to compile and to look at a lot of these key critical priority issues that are impacting these various communities.

But to put some context to that, in 1994 President Clinton… There's been numerous previous federal Indian policy statements, but this is the latest one. And in 1994, Bill Clinton says, "Today I reaffirm our commitment to self-determination of tribal governments. Today I pledge to fulfill the trust obligations of the federal government. And today I'll vote to honor and respect tribal sovereignty based upon our historical relationships."

And you have to remember to put that in context. The Indian tribes gave up millions and millions of acres of land. A lot of lives were lost. And not too long ago. Hundred, hundred and fifty years. There's foundation and framework that the tribes talk about unfunded mandates, you know. But this is something that we're trying to define where we're going to own up to these situations. So that intersection has got to happen, that nexus between the FCC and where are we going to open up some new channels here.

The OTA study will be important to open up that dialogue and a new beginning and perhaps a new discussion to create those new chapters in Felix Cohen's Federal Indian Law Handbook. We've been fighting for years now for jurisdiction over water rights, hunting, fishing, minerals, subsurface/surface mining. And this is something that I feel that impacts all Americans as we look at how we conduct ourselves, our behavior. So I think the net and the connectedness and the information exchange, all the things will benefit all communities. And I think as soon as tribes can take control and ownership of determining where they're going (the self-determination factor), building their own information economies, and then sharing that information you know, in indistinct ways that protects their communities and their their local image and their dynamic. So those are just kind of some encompassing comments I'd just like to offer. So thank you.

Art McGee: I didn't have anything in particular or that special to say, except that one of things that I try to do when I talk to people or write or whatever, is to point out that even with sort of all the doom and gloom of the lack of access or the different cultural issues and other things, that there is a lot of good going on out there. That there are a lot of grassroots efforts. That there are a lot of good organizational efforts to give people more access, that are completely independent of governments but also in some ways connected with the government. But that the main point to make is that people aren't simply sitting around and waiting for a solution. That they're not just sitting and saying, "Oh, when will Al Gore get here to rescue us?" They're they're going out, they're doing everything from running a bulletin board system in their basement, to planning…you know, setting up their own Internet service providers-type things. And so that's the main point I want to get across, is that it's not all bad news.

Deborah Runkle: Okay, we're going to take questions now. And given the time and the number of people I would request that you ask a question and not give a speech.

Audience 1: Camera people don't usually get to ask questions but I figure this is a different kinda conference so I will.

My question is really to Mr. Ross, but to anybody else on the panel who like to help out. I listen to National Public Radio and the Native American news, and I really never hear anything about the net on there except an occasional statistic about the number of modems on tribal American lands. And it occurs to me as a member of the PGP development team that one of the things that Native Americans could do to help both themselves and everybody else, and get an awful lot of attention from the government real fast [some light general laughter] would be to promote the use of anonymizing remailers on Native American lands.

It seems to me that seems that since you know, my ancestors apparently came over here and stole your country, that you have a certain right to sovereignty, and I think that shouldn't be taken away from you and I think you should make the most of that. And I'd like to know…if you can possibly educate me and everybody else here about any kind of initiatives that are being taken in that direction I'd really appreciate it, and I'd be glad to offer my assistance and volunteer my efforts in that area as well. So please, tell me what's going on with that.

Randy Ross: Okay. Well thank you. Yeah, might as well go to Europe and stake a claim there, huh? [laughter] See if that works first.

Um, from an infrastructure standpoint, many of the reservations… I heard it this morning, the way the system was set up in the beginning… So you talk about a lot of boundaries and so forth, in-state, the high cost of toll access, those switches, the remote terminals. If you look at how the infrastructure is designed, those switches are located off the reservation in most cases. The economics of telecommunications, the taxation of services on that, the federal Indian landing team just hasn't fit in to the current model of local regulated monopolies and how they're set up and how their revenue streams are developed. Indian people tend to pay a lot of money to be in connection with relatives, even within the boundaries of the reservation they're crossing a couple of these ladders and they're paying in-state toll distances. Because of the pricing—again, the pricing schemes that we're currently faced with.

25% of Indian homes on average have phone service. There's some information says it might be as high as 50$ in some reservations but it most due to economic conditions and the high cost of access. Just basic phone service. We're talking communities who don't even have access to 911. Health conditions are fairly deplorable. But when you can't even contact the ambulance because you don't have 911, we have a lot of problems here. And the local [arbox?] and the the telcos aren't going to come in and fiber up the reservation, because the subscriber per loop revenue requirement doesn't meet a standard that they want. That's why it's so important I think that tribes look at this infrastructure issue. If they can determine their own regulatory environment, set up their own switches, force some interconnectivity agreements, they can have that 911 so that they can call local within a 500-mile radius if they want to, local.

We're talking about calls terminated from one federal Indian reservation land to another one. Calls originated and then terminated on federal Indian land. Can tribes set their switches up up to set up a tribal network that sits in its own regulatory regime? Those are things that we need to look at so that we can provide better, broader service and a better social impact to our communities.

So yeah, there is some big issues out there and I could go on and on, but I'll work on that European trip.

David Vest David Vest with Victims of Credit Reporting. We've had a large number of people that once belonged to this group that can no longer access the net because all of the major graphical interface providers require credit cards. There's also a move afoot now to require monthly credit checks for access to the net, to the major providers. I've heard some hope here in issues regarding alternative networks. I'm wondering if you have any suggestions how the one quarter of Americans that are currently unable to obtain credit cards can obtain access to the net at the same time. AOL certainly won't let you. Neither will Prodigy, CompuServe. I can go on and on.

McGee: I can say I can only really speak for IGC. We have several different options for signing up to our services. Credit card is obviously the most popular, but we also you know…monthly billing, prepayment, CheckFree. So we're very flexible in terms of understanding that our user community may not all be using credit cards, or may one not be able to use credit cards to sign up for the service. I think that's something that more service providers should do, is add more options and be more flexible.

Audience 3: Yes, I'm involved with an organization, Metropolitan Austin Information Network—it's called MAIN—and what we are, we're kind of like a community network. Essentially what we do now is that we provide Web and Gopher pages to community groups in and around Austin. And my question is I wonder if you had any advice or recommendations for one…you know, for MAIN to be more effective in bringing these minority groups online. And also like, if there's anything that we should say to these… You know, I'm thinking of like a community newspapers and organization that aren't online now about why they should be online.

Ross: Well I guess in general, at least for the tribal communities that I'm aware of and working with, the whole tech transfer issue of getting them… The hardware and software is part of it. Part of the problem…regulatory. And the affordable access issue's another one. So there's a whole combination of issues but most certainly… A lot of the stuff is so abstract that when you can go into a tribal counsel that barely understands how switch networks networks work for basic phone service then you're talking about well we want to upgrade this so we can do at least ISDN or some voice/video data application. And boy you lose them right off the bat and then you've got to somehow take it out of the abstract. This should really show what the benefits are. And then you could talk about access to the hordes of government information, hopefully it's useful. You know, some of it's not useful. But even then, that's what I mean, there's a whole vast sea of unfiltered information out there that how do tribes begin to build their capacity internally. Or communities, you could say a community, or a tribal library, or a tribal college, or whatever the entity is.

Showing examples, I think. If you're going to communicate with them, there's much talk now about putting things up for Web pages. I've already seen sales pitches that will put stuff up for eight cents, uh… They had all these class schedules all figured out. So it costs that, but what are they really getting out of that? And so you pay so much much to hang a page up for months in Mosaic and… So really it's like the application and what is the benefit and value gonna be of having stuff posted out there that's relevant to them. I can see the potential for…definitely for curriculum development. We could talk about learning styles, cultural learning styles. I really see this whole revolution thing kind of coming back full circle or going back to the pictures and drawings. And the idea of learning styles that are traditional learning styles that include voice, sound, and you know, a whole mix of kind of a holistic thing. So I really see that while the jury's still out in a lot of way, I really see that there's going to be receptiveness to looking at new ways, and so I think that that whole learning issue is really a key area.

Harvey: Yeah that's an interesting question about how you get people to realize the value or the potential for being on the network. I had an interesting experience this past semester. One of my classes decided to do a survey of the minority businesses in the metropolitan area, because there was a directory that they could use that identified all the businesses. And they asked them first whether they'd heard of the Internet, and if any of them had heard of it, were they using it and if so how. And it was just amazing how many had not even heard of the Internet.

And then after they had done their survey and we had a discussion about what it meant, one of the things the students observed was that the smaller businesses where the ones who had heard the least, and the larger businesses had heard more. And of course all these were small compared to the mammoth businesses. But it came about that some of them had experience with saying that some of the businesses that were successful and larger were ones that were on the Internet because they had been able to transact some business and attract some customers.

So what we think we'll do, and this just happened this past year, is to have the computer society and the students in the courses come up with some sort of way of contacting the businesses after they've put together a document saying what you can get out of being on the Internet. Because they really don't know. And this goes with what you said, there needs to be some curriculum development or changes, because the curriculum that we're following—even in computer science—was pretty much an [SACM?] curriculum we're following, was developed long before networking really took over. So we do need to do some changes there also.

Valdez: I just wanted to offer a comment. Our experience was that we permitted the organizations to define what information was useful to them, and not so much—it was not technology-driven. The idea of getting on the net or using the net and so forth. The idea is what information do you need to have access to in what form? And once that question was addressed, there was no question about you know, do I use the net—I mean, it's there and so forth.

So I think it's important to think about not the technology but rather…you know, people in any walk of life will use tools available to them if they value those tools, if it'll get them what they need. Be it a car, be it a computer, be it whatever. And we had significant success with that.

Audience 4: My question is to the whole panel about some of the long-term tradeoffs between community-building versus building bridges across communities. Much of the emphasis here and in other fora has been on the value of these technologies to bring together like-minded people with common interests around the world, whether it's minority interest, political, religious, or all the computer-literate dogs who want to talk to each other. And on the one hand this is certainly an empowering approach, but I'm seeing increasing concern on the other side and even scholarly concern that what's happening is that like-minded people are splitting off into smaller and smaller groups who talk to people who have the same attitudes, the same political opinions as each other, and are not confronting people who have different opinions and different interests. And we're actually maybe using this technology to move away from the community-building and the broader set of interests in the public dialogue that we really need to have. And I'm very interested in what all of you are thinking about in terms of long-term tradeoffs of building your own communities versus building bridges across communities and a broader public dialogue.

Valdez: I'd like to respond to that. I mean it's… I began getting involved politically in 1960s, and I began working with initially SDS and ethnic organizations. And I found that the way many of these organizations then and now address the questions of people of color was sort of a checklist or nominally so. I felt a need to move from that community to a Chicano student organizing community and so forth. And I found, and I've maintained that relationship all my life, that is it's not an either/or situation. I think if you frame the question the way you have, in terms of tradeoffs, then we begin to see what is the relative merits of doing this as opposed to doing that.

I would argue that the way we should frame the issue is how can you do this and do that to strengthen, in your case, both sides of the dichotomy. I don't see it as a dichotomy necessarily. I think that there is significant strength in organizing within your community, because I can do it for example in the Chicano community and perhaps you can't. But I think for me to isolate myself and do that and not communicate with you I think is a detriment to both what you're doing and I'm doing, and so forth.

So I think it's important for us to think globally, and act locally, and that's what I've done over the years and I think that's the way we should think about these questions rather than just an either/or.

McGee: From my experience I've found that I'm seeing just the opposite, that it's only— At least from an ethnic or racial standpoint, that the networks are only bringing more people together that previously would never have crossed paths in a lifetime. I do understand your concern about the issue in terms of thought process or political leanings, that people are sort of only associating with the same folks. But I don't see that as a particularly cyberspace-related problem. Because it seems to only be mirroring what occurs in the general society. I mean, I don't think I'm going to be having lunch with Newt Gingrich tomorrow. I mean, whether in cyberspace or in the real world.

So I think that's just the way it is on a day-to-day basis, that people tend to do that. So it's not really— That's not really— I don't see that as really a cyberspace problem, I think actually cyberspace has had a positive effect in that area. That I can just—from my own personal experience, the wide range of people that I've met, or who've become friends with would never have happened without this communications technology.

Ross: I'd like to add just a short comment. I also served as a non-trustee board member for the National Museum of the American Indian. It hopes to build a facility on the Washington Mall next to the National Air and Space Museum, and it hope to have a Suitland, Maryland research center. They had an opening for the custom house in New York City last fall. Tribal America's looking very carefully about the issue of how to exchange and share and strengthen cultural positioning. Not only from a learning context with the communities but how do we share information with the next generations. And noting that under the current museum practices without technology many of our children have and probably never will have the opportunity to travel to Washington DC to see much of the culture, patrimony, and the materials that have been collected over the years.

I think this offers— The idea of global exchange, the idea of multimedia, it opens up new doors and possibilities of sharing and exchanging, and to a similar extent negotiating and starting that dialogue for— In tribal communities the issue of repatriation, the return of cultural properties is an important issue. But within the communities, there is… We have Indian radio out there. We're starting to look at…it's a mix of mediums I think. So when you talk about just the Indian techies talking to the Indian techies well, to some extent it is that. But at the same time we have a lot of opportunities to mix computer network access with say, the Indian radio station, maybe the cable programmers that are coming up with new ideas there for program division and public access to some channels there. And the newspapers, the newspapers.

So I'm not going to die tomorrow. The paper guys aren't going to go away. But how do we get a qualitative impact of all the merged medias, to build our economies and the communities internally, and strengthen them. And then go from there about what we want to do about developing a broader national cultural policy agenda of how do we share information with the larger globe. And to remember that we're not just… You know, there this thing about there's a third world out there. Hey, this is—it's a one world. Get real, this is one world, you know.


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