Declaration of Digital Democracy

Bozza per una dichiarazione di democrazia digitale
12 luglio 2005 - Jason Nardi

Declaration of Digital Democracy

Choice. Competition. Diversity. Equal Opportunity. Free Expression. Equitable Access. Self-Determination. These are among the basic values that must govern our communications systems in the digital age. The digital media environment must accommodate a competitive array of commercial and noncommercial services that meet citizen and community needs, reflect our diverse society, and ensure that all of us share in the abundance that the digital revolution has brought forth. While there will always be room for a growing range of products and services designed to tap the commercial potential of telecommunications (everything from long-distance calling plans to premium cable channels), these must be offered in a fair and equitable manner.

Above all, as traditional communications systems converge onto a unified broadband network, communities should have a voice in how that network is constructed and operated. Citizens and local governments have the right to, and indeed must participate in the decision-making process to determine how essential communications resources (including production, transmission, and access to facilities and services) can best serve public needs. Specific strategies may differ from community to community, but the principles that guide open, diverse and democratic media are likely to remain the same. A "Declaration of Digital Democracy," then, includes the following ten citizen rights:

Right to "Open Access" to the Internet: The broadband networks of tomorrow should be as open and as competitive as the dial-up Internet of today, with a full choice of access providers, content, and services. Not only should citizens have the ability to choose the ISP of their preference, but ISPs should be able to operate freely without any artificial restrictions on the character or quality of service imposed by network owners.

Right to unrestricted communication: The principle of nondiscriminatory communication has long governed our telephone system and the Internet itself, allowing any party to transmit any message to any other party without interference by the network operator. This principle of free expression should be extended to broadband as well. High-speed Internet users should be allowed unimpeded communications with any network device, use of any lawful service, and transmission of any data. Governmental entities should insist that their information and services be accessible on multiple platforms and in multiple formats, including open source and no-cost platforms and formats.

Right to robust community networks: As communications technologies advance and increase in capacity (bringing more elaborate digital cable systems into our homes, for example), community networking resources should progress accordingly. Such resources include high-speed institutional networks that link municipal agencies and community organizations, streaming-media servers that deliver noncommercial programming, and next-generation public-, education-, and government-access channels that bring two-way communications to all segments of the community.

Right to a "Digital Television Dividend": The impending transition to digital television will vastly increase the power of stations to deliver new streams of simultaneous programming. A portion of this multicasting capability should be used to bring new public-service offerings (e.g., children's, educational, cultural, and public affairs programming). Revenues derived from the auction of spectrum surrendered by the stations once the transition to digital broadcast is complete, moreover, should be used to support such public service programming.

Right to online privacy: As new forms of interactive media, e-commerce, and video-on-demand make their appearance, so too must new forms of privacy protection be implemented as safeguards against consumer profiling and monitoring. Citizens should have communications systems that are secure from outside monitoring and manipulation, and protected by strong government policies for privacy and corporate accountability. Freedom to enjoy creative works anonymously should be preserved.

Right to a "Spectrum Commons": New wireless technologies make unlicensed uses of the radio spectrum possible, services that should be open to all users on an equal basis (as distinguished from the current system that grants exclusive licenses to specific frequencies). A portion of such a "spectrum commons" should be devoted to noncommercial, public interest applications and services, and supported by auctions in those frequencies in which exclusive licenses are still deemed advisable.

Right to unshackled hardware: Computers, recording and playback equipment, and other digital devices should not be burdened with technological encumbrances designed to prevent users from employing their equipment in any manner they see fit. Nor should set-top boxes, cable modems, and other end-user equipment be deployed by network owners and service providers in our homes without being fully open to user configuration and operation.

Right to unfettered software: Copy protection and related digital rights management schemes and access-control technologies must not be permitted to interfere with fair use and other legally protected rights of consumers and citizens, or to expand the scope of the copyright holder's control beyond the limits established in the Copyright Act. Copyright rules should strike a fair and productive balance between the rights of creators and those of citizens and future innovators.

Right to a "Dot-Commons": Just as we have set aside public space (e.g., parks, beaches, town squares) in the real-world landscape, so must we protect and promote a portion of the online world for noncommercial speech and public interest applications. Such a virtual commons will play host to programming that ranges from community information resources and educational projects to cultural expression and social services - the building blocks of democracy that are not always well served by the commercial marketplace.

Right to digital universal service: The longstanding principle of ensuring that all citizens have access to basic telephone service must now be expanded to include advanced telecommunications services as well, reaching those in low-income, rural, insular, and high-cost areas in particular.