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This assignment asks you to develop a political economic analysis of conditions that explain the rise of commercial Internet in the U.S. Watch the documentary Digital Disconnect and, please write an essay (500-750 words) discussing: 1) Three economic, political or regulatory factors that explain the development of Internet infrastructure and services mostly as a commercial enterprise in the U.S., and 2) provide a relevant conclusion on what you learned through this documentary about changes in the evolution of Internet in the last 30 years: what was intriguing and illuminating about this documentary? What is the main takeaway or idea you learned through this case study?

Answers should be typewritten in 12 pts, Times New Roman fonts, and double-spaced with a minimum of 1-inch margins. Essays should be between 500 and 750 words. Use your own words in composing your essay! DO NOT copy and paste information from Internet sources or class materials.

Digital Disconnect is a Media Education Foundation (MEF) documentary (2018) based on Robert McChesneys book Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is turning the Internet against democracy (2013). McChesney is a well-known American scholar, prolific writer and public intellectual notable for his work on the history and political economy of media and communication systems in the U.S. He is the Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign, and in 2002 he was the co-founder of Free Press, the largest public interest media reform and advocacy organization of the country. The MEF documentary features McChesney and revisits some of his main thesis in Digital Disconnect to historize and analyze trends of Internet Development in the U.S., discussing their implications for democratic governance of the country.

According to McChesney, most of the scholarship on social and political implications of Internet tends to be dominated by celebrant and skeptic interpretations of technological development that focus on micro-issues such as how some people use digital tools for different ends. In his view, these studies overlook the key issue: the crucial role that the capitalist system plays in shaping the Internet potential for democratic governance. McChesney argues that there is no real correlation between capitalism and democracy, and that when left unchecked, markets can foster inequalities and “undemocratic concentration” of wealth and power. In order to address these issues, he turns to a political  economic analysis of Internet development.

As McChesney explains, the political economy of communication (PEC) perspective evaluates media and communication systems by investigating (1) how they affect political, economic and social power in society, and (2) if they are OR NOT a means for inclusive, democratic self-governance in their societies. PEC goes beyond economic analysis of how media markets work to interrogate how economic interests, public policy and social power shapes media markets under capitalism, and how media operations impact the power of different social actors (i.e. industries and for-profit corporations; citizens, organized social movements and non-profit ventures; political parties; educational and research institutions; military; governmental agencies etc.).

Through the institutional history of Internet development, Digital Disconnect analyzes how the Internet went from being a U.S. government-funded military, research and educational network to become a hyper-commercial network of networks that nowadays supports digital capitalism at a global scale. As we learned through the history of radio technology at the beginning of the semester, one of the takeaways of this film is that media tech systems we know today are never the creation of one single individual, corporation or government but the result of social forces and economic interests behind technological development. In watching the documentary (particularly between min14 and 43) identify 3 factors (i.e. public policy decisions, market developments, industry or business practices) that explain why the Internet today is mostly run by commercial, for-profit interests that are jeopardizing the inclusive and democratic potential of the net.

In watching the documentary, please consider the following questions:

According to McChesney, what is the relationship between Internet development and democracy?
According to McChesney, what are the main ways in which social scientists have studied and interpreted the relation between Internet development and democracy? Briefly explain celebrants and skeptics interpretations of Internet development. Do they have anything in common? What are they “missing”?
What were the initial social applications inventors envisioned for the ARPANET? Who funded the ARPANET? How did that change in the 1990s? How did deregulation impact Internet development?
According to McChesney, what is capitalism? In his view, what are some of the characteristics of the capitalist development of the Internet?
According to McChesney, how has the hyper-commercialization of Internet hampered democratic communications in todays world? What problems has it caused in todays society?
What is the political economy of communication perspective on Internet development? In your perspective, what is the value of this perspective for the study of media and public policy? Can you think about any drawback?
In Digital Disconnect McChesney argues that capitalist development of the Internet has turned the internet against democracy. Explain his argument and indicate if you agree or disagree with it.
From McChesneys perspective, can we change current trends of Internet development? What needs to change to have a more open and democratic Internet?

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