[ sh>= Stevan Harnad, sf>= Steve Fuller ]
sf> over time professors and students alike have taken full advantage of
sf> its free facility, so that the Internet is on the verge of becoming the
sf> umbilical cord of academic life. Many know first hand that academic
sf> productivity is definitely enhanced by the new regime. What better
sf> time, then, to privatise the entire Internet, putting its virtual real
sf> estate on the market to the highest bidder among those -- including
sf> publishers -- who have an interest in promoting academic work! As the
sf> Internet evolves from a mere convenience to an outright necessity, it
sf> invites thoughts about how much academics -- or their sponsors --
sf> would be willing to pay to continue feeding their technological fix.
sh> Privatising the Internet is one matter. That would simply entail
sh> Universities' adding 10-20% to the flat rate they already pay for
sh> allowing the free read/write access to the global electronic "library"
sh> for all their users. Switching to a fee-for-use model within the
sh> University would, as I suggested, be tantamount to charging students
sh> and faculty for using their library or for writing papers. Or would
sh> Fuller suggest "privatising" University Libraries too, and letting
sh> market forces decide who uses them according to how much he's willing
sh> to pay?
The crucial issue is costs. If Internet connections were expensive, we
might have to worry. As it is, Princeton is paying around $20M per year
for its libraries, but probably well under $0.1M for its connection to
the Internet. When things get cheap enough, they get absorbed into the
overhead. Does your department charge you for every pencil you take
from the office? Back two decades ago, when I was graduating, it was
common for universities to have strict accounting of long distance
calls. A professor had to call a special university operator, tell what
number to call, and also specify the grant number to which the cost was
to be charged. Nowadays, with phone call prices much lower, charges up
to some limit are typically absorbed into the general overhead.
sf> Harnad's strategy of locating a medium beyond the reach of economic
sf> considerations is no more than a temporary solution, one akin to having
sf> everyone who lives in a high-rent district move to a less expensive
sf> neighbourhood. It will not be long before the latter locale acquires
sf> the property values of the former. The metaphor is telling.
sh> As long as we're telling metaphors, I think it's more like having
sh> everyone take public transport, rather than private limousines...
The title of Harnad's response to Fuller, "There's plenty of room in
cyberspace," is the right response. Fuller simply "does not get it."
What is driving the transformation of scholarly publishing, as well
as most of the other changes sweeping the world, is the rapid increase
in computing and communication capability. We are not dealing with
a static situation, is with real estate, whose quantity is fixed
for the foreseeable future. It's as if the number of floors available
for lease in our district kept doubling every year or so. Could rents
possibly increase under those conditions?
sh> (2) The National Science Foundation still pays about 10-20% of the cost
sh> of the US "backbone," but that will soon be privatised. (I'm not an
sh> expert on these figures: Steve Goldstein [email@example.com] knows the
sh> exact numbers, and the timetable for the privatisation.) Most of the
sh> rest is paid for by a consortium of Universities and other
sh> Institutional Users, who pay a flat rate so they can then let their staff
sh> and students use it essentially limitlessly. That's the special nature
sh> of a Network. It's a distributed entity, all interconnected. Analogies
sh> are hard to find. It's NOT like a highway, with tolls per axle, nor
sh> like a phone, with charges by distance or message unit, nor like cable
sh> or satellite TV, with individual subscriptions, nor like a mainframe
sh> computer, with connect and processing time charges, nor like ham or CB
sh> radio -- though the Net involves bits and pieces of all these technologies.
I believe the NSF backbone was finally privatized a couple of weeks ago.
A network can be "like a highway, with tolls per axle," or "like a
phone." In fact, many people, including myself, believe that the
Internet will have to start imposing usage-based charges to prevent
congestion. However, those charges are bound to be minor for all but
heavy multimedia users, and so will not affect most scholars.
sh> And the irony is that right now it is the Universities and the NSF that
sh> are subsidising use for ALL of us: in other words, the Net's current
sh> commercial uses are getting a free ride from academe! Once the Net is
sh> privatised, however, and commercial products and services start to flow
sh> on it for fee, my prediction is that ALL OF SOCIETY will be better off
sh> if the Net's remaining academic uses (especially esoteric publication)
sh> -- by then merely the flea on the tail of the dog -- continue to get a
sh> free ride.
It is definitely not true that "commercial uses are getting a free ride
from academe." NSF has been consistent in trying to keep its subsidies
flowing only to nonprofit organizations, so that only they, for
example, have been able to get direct connections to the backbone.
Commercial users have had to use the private regional services for a
Of course, there is a sense in which commercial users are getting a
free ride, since they are not charged for all the developments costs of
the system, which were paid for by US taxpayers. However,
that has little to do with the operational costs.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Feb 13 2001 - 16:24:07 GMT