"The question facing the nation today is: Will non-profit, civic uses of the Internet disappear, as did non-profit radio? . . . If the Internet is to fulfill its promise of strengthening our civic lives, provision must be made for local, non-profit content."
Wally Bowen, in a 2000 essay, "Local Voices Falling Silent in Internet Boom."
It's hard for Wally Bowen to walk along the streets of downtown Asheville, N.C., without getting stopped by a listener, viewer, reader or political fellow traveler who has been touched by -- or volunteers for -- his Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN).
In the 1980s, Bowen left a job as a PR person for the University of North Carolina at Asheville and started a media-literacy advocacy group. In the 1990s he started one of the first-ever local online news services in MAIN. And now his not-profit operates a low-power FM station.
On April 2, 2008, Bowen talked with the Media Giraffe Project about his odyssey as a progressive media activist. You can listen to it as streaming audio (60 minutes) or watch the video, by clicking on the links above.
In April, 2007, Bowen traveled to Bennington, Vt., and spoke about the model of community broadband access. Streaming audio of his talked is available from THIS PAGE.
BELOW EXCERPTED FROM:
Wally Bowen is founder and executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), a nonprofit Internet Service Provider and community network based in Asheville, N.C. A journalist and media activist, Bowen also founded Citizens for Media Literacy in 1991 to promote new ways for citizens to gain access to the media. MAIN is one outcome of this work. Most recently, MAIN launched a new low-power FM radio station, WPVM 103.5 FM, the Progressive Voice of the Mountains. In addition to broadcasting in the Asheville, N.C. area, WPVM is also webcast over the Internet via the MAIN homepage.
Bowen was also instrumental in establishing public access TV in the Asheville area. MAIN will soon begin webcasting video from Asheville's new public access TV operation. All of MAIN's alternative media activities are funded primarily by revenue from the community network's nonprofit Internet and webhosting services.
"We simply give local citizens the option of spending their Internet dollars with MAIN, rather than spending them to support 'Big Media' such as AOL, MSN or Earthlink," says Bowen.
Below excerpted from "Think Again: IndyLink: Building Media Democracy One Brick at a Time" by Eric Alterman with Paul McLeary (http://www.americanprogress.org/site/pp.asp?c=biJRJ8OVF&b=313382):
Conservatives have long practiced the art of marrying the market to their political interests, giving rise to a vast media network of talk radio programs, cable programming, mass book purchasing, magazines, talking heads and pundits-for-sale. Progressives have long been playing catch up, but some of us are catching up faster than others. While most of the attention in recent times has gone to efforts to set up well-funded national counterparts like this Center, Air America, MoveOn, etc., much of the most important work being done is local and regional in nature.
A key pioneer and visionary in this area is Wally Bowen, founder of the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), a progressive Internet portal and information resource, and its FM radio station, WPVM, anchored in Asheville, N.C. Bowen believes that the left " by placing an emphasis on communication technology at the local level " can begin to strike back at the entrenched corporate interests that now dominate the American media scene. "Progressives need to employ the analysis of 'political economy,'" he explains in an interview, "and recognize the relationship between power and money not only at the macro level (our strong suit), but also at the micro level."
After successfully offering local dial-up Internet service in North Carolina, MAIN has recently launched an ambitious nationwide project called IndyLink, a nonprofit ISP that offers dial-up Internet service for about 30 percent less than plans provided by corporate interests such as AOL or Earthlink. Because IndyLink is run by a nonprofit organization, it doesn't rely on advertising revenue to survive. It is free of advertising and refuses to collect information on its users or sell information to third parties.
Drawing on his long history as a media activist, having founded the nonprofit Citizens for Media Literacy in 1991, Bowen sees IndyLink's mission as being more than just an ISP. He views its mission as promoting civic involvement and democratic dialogue. Bowen says that early on, "I saw the Internet as revolutionary technology, but I also saw that leaving the ISP function to the private sector would eventually jeopardize the Internet's democratic potential."