“Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations”
–Toni Morrison, 1986
One must consider issues related to access to information from two perspectives:
- Access for information consumers
- Access for information creators and publishers
Consumer Access: Basic Principles
In the broadest sense, the world infosphere is the collective product of all humankind and the birthright of every individual. That means that: Information should be free—politically. There should be no censorship and no forbidden subjects. Information should be available to all—economically.
While creators have a right to be paid for their labor, it is in the interests of society as a whole to ensure that no one is locked out of the world infosphere because he or she cannot afford access.
Consumer Access: Discussion
These new information technologies offer the possibility of an unprecedented expansion in education and communication among the people in this country and throughout the world. Through these new technologies, we hope to witness a new flowering of democracy as information flows into the hands of individuals who then participate in the world of ideas and politics.
The danger is that the costs and training required to enter this new information universe will be out of reach or unavailable to some, dividing society into information haves and have-nots. As writers and union members, we understand and support the principle of collective advancement of humankind which requires that everyone have access to information as a human right.
It is in the long-term interest of society as a whole to provide basic educational opportunities to all, rich and poor. We have public schools, libraries, hospitals, and highways not out of soft-hearted charity, but because we have learned from human history that cultures and societies grow and advance as collectives, not just as individuals.
Today we benefit from the investments our ancestors made in the education of all, regardless of wealth. The return on that investment has enriched our individual lives a thousand fold. It is short-sighted to deny to anyone in our society the opportunity for education and advancement. Thus, we are committed to the fight for full access to the new information universe for everyone, regardless of income.
Consumer Access: We Advocate
AFFORDABLE EQUIPMENT. Systems should be designed so that citizens can access the world infosphere using inexpensive equipment. In the future, the user will not necessarily need computers as we know them today to access these networks. It is vital for democratic access to information that inexpensive devices—for example, a device that you attach to your phone line or that hooks into your cable TV—be made available for information access. This minimal equipment, costing no more than a typical TV set, should be all that is required to access the infosphere.
EDUCATION. Training in use of the infosphere should be a mandatory part of school curricula. Adult education in these technologies should be offered through libraries, public schools, job training programs, and other appropriate venues, not the least of which should be online lessons.
LOW ACCESS FEES. Free access to the world’s infosphere must be available for those who need it. This can be either government supported or financed through advertising.
LIBRARY UPGRADES. Historically, public libraries have always served the information needs of society’s low-income sectors. Even with free or low-cost rates from service providers, many working people, children, the poor, the homeless, travelers, and others will have to rely on libraries for access and assistance. Therefore, public libraries must be upgraded so they can provide both training and access for those who do not have the means or cannot afford access on their own.
FREE GOVERNMENT INFORMATION. All users should have access to databases and other material created or assembled at taxpayer expense at no more than the cost of providing online access. Government data should not be licensed to vendors for commercial exploitation. Where taxpayer-funded data has already been licensed for commercial distribution, the fees should be regulated to maximize access and minimize exploitation.
Publishing Access: Basic Principles
The Global Information Infrastructure (GII). must be operated as a common carrier. Just as the phone companies do not regulate what you can say over their lines, the infosphere must carry every person’s or group’s information traffic without regard to content. As a common carrier, basic charges must be reasonable, fair, and equal.
Publishing Access: Discussion
They say that freedom of the press applies only to those who own one. And as presses have become more and more expensive, publishing has been concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. The new information technologies of the GII provide the opportunity to reverse that historical trend.
The technology now exists to enable individual authors, small presses, and writer co-ops to publish and distribute information in digital format over the GII and have their payments and royalties electronically collected and transferred to them. This is already possible without any investment in expensive equipment or payment of prohibitive usage and carrier fees. But just because it is possible to allow low-cost publishing does not mean that the electronic marketplace will be implemented that way.
Publishing Access: We Advocate
INVESTMENT COSTS WITHIN THE REACH OF SMALL PUBLISHERS. The electronic marketplaces should be designed so that the capital and human investments required to license and distribute creative work can be made afforded by individual authors, small presses, or author co- ops.
LOW SELLERS’ FEES. Likewise, the charges and fees for licensing intellectual property in the electronic marketplace and collecting appropriate royalties and use-fees should be set within reach of small independent publishers.
FAIR ACCESS. Individuals and small presses must have fair access to the means of electronic publishing and promotion on the GII.