Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications
The Issues

  • Why Metering is Wrong
  • Metering People's Lives
  • Two Countries, Two Approaches
  • Metering Democracy
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  • Metering Democracy

    'If Ronald Reagan was the made-for-TV candidate, Jesse Ventura is the made-for-Net candidate,' says Steven Clift. Bespectacled Clift, who combines the youngish plumpish look of a sharp East Coast political insider with the laid-back, techie demeanour of a Silicon Valley acolyte, does not seem a natural supporter of the flamboyant Ventura, the former pro wrestler who crushed the opposition in November's election for the governorship of Minnesota.

    Where their interests coincide is in putting politics on the Web. Ventura's low budget campaign made extensive use of the Internet to mobilise volunteers and communicate with voters and the media.

    In 1991, Clift pioneered teledemocracy. As a graduate working on citizen participation in politics at the University of Minnesota, he concluded the Net would be 'the most powerful medium in politics' and set up PUBPOL-L, the first public policy e-mail list. He is now pushing idea across Europe with a lecture tour through Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Brussels, Paris, the UK and Iceland. But his latest trip to Britain has not impressed him. He says the Net's democratic potential is being stifled in the UK by the high price of telecommunications.

    'As long as you have local call charges for the Net, citizen use from the home is virtually impossible. The time it takes to go to the Parliament Web site, look up some legislation, download it, post it to a discussion group and continue a debate about it online becomes very costly. Democracy is inherently inefficient - participation is not about efficiency, it's about effectiveness, which often means investing time.'

    The exclusion of a mass audience from such activity is not merely damaging to the democratic process, he says, it could also hit competitiveness. 'Whatever Internet advantage I perceived in the UK compared with other countries in Europe 18 months ago, I don't see any more. My sense is that the next step should have been to create a mass consumer market, but it seems that you haven't added that next 20 per cent of the population yet, and that goes back to the pricing issue.'

    It's very different in the US where he co-ordinated Web, White and Blue for November's elections for US state governorships. A non-partisan gateway to information sites, it was seen as a dry run to the wired-up White House race in 2000. Clift says 'under Ventura there is tremendous opportunity to kick-start government online unlike anywhere else in the world'.

    © Guardian Newspapers Limited 1999 - Reprinted with permission

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