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.