New media technologies such as the Internet pose significant regulatory challenges (Collins & Murroni). Their so-called interactive communicative possibilities have threatened to reshape media flows and the extent of traditional institutional influence on our mediascapes (Barr, Rheingold). Moreover, the digital technologies which are central to the new media are themselves developing rapidly. The result is a dynamic environment in which media forms are constantly reshaped. In such a milieu, policy evaluation can be problematic. Thus, this thesis does not focus on the Australian policy approach. Instead, it establishes a theoretical framework for understanding Online Services and determines a concomitant role for Government. It proposes contextualised evaluation criteria and uses the Australian policy approach as a case study.
In order to properly define Online Services, a useful understanding of the relationship between technology and society is required. 'Technologies' are best considered as assemblages of abstract machines (or ideas) and possibilities (Wise, Deleuze & Guattari); particular actualisations shaped by policy and the marketplace as much as they are by technical considerations and engineered artefacts. Competing abstract machines are evident in the development of Online Services. Two in particular stand out. The first is an abstract machine of free communication and the open sharing of information. It coincides with the hacker ethic and was actualised in the Arpanet and the early history of the Internet (Castells, 2001). The second prominent abstract machine is exemplified by the proprietary commercial Online Service providers that emerged in the 1980s. These services modelled themselves on the more traditional (and hierarchical) media ideas of centrally controlled information flows.
As the Internet gained favour as the defacto global digital communications network, many proprietary services disappeared (Swisher). Indeed, the term Online Services has become conflated with the Internet - in most instances, the two are considered the same thing. However, there remains competition between abstract machines. Commercial Internet Service Providers and Content Hosts jostle for control over user eyeballs and revenues with community driven open publishing and file sharing services. Users are caught in the middle and there is a tension in the different ways the network is utilised.
This thesis distinguishes between the Internet as a metanetwork (drawing together technical infrastructures) and the Internet as a idea (actualised as a cultural object). In defining Online Services, it focuses on contrasting abstract machines and argues that the abstract machine that distinguishes the Internet is the key to its growth and user acceptance. That distinctiveness is centred on intercreative possibilities (Bemers-Lee) which blur the divisions between cultural production and consumption, and allow the emergence of actualised cultural citizenships.
The second part of this thesis broadly examines the role of government and assesses the manner in which governments address their citizenry. Foucault describes a contradiction in government between what he termed the 'shepherd-flock' game and the 'city-citizen' game (Dean). This thesis argues that a 'city-citizen' game is the more appropriate approach. It speaks to the idea of the Internet and allows cultural policy a more appropriate role whereby actualised citizens are privileged and empowered to create their own cultures. Such cultural citizenship is the key criteria by which Online Services Policy should be assessed.
Finally, the thesis provides a case study of the Australian experience. It summarises the development and implementation of policy and analyses the impact of that policy to date. It concludes that as well as failing to properly address the government's stated policy aims, the Australian policy approach does not acknowledge, let alone encourage the possibilities of cultural citizenship. Instead, it ignores the distinctive abstract machine that defines the Intemet, and extends a traditional media approach to regulation that disempowers citizens and nudges the development of Online Services (or the Internet) towards a model of centralised control.