Wally Bowen, a relentless media reform activist who founded an organization that provided the first public Internet access for thousands of early online superhighway users died Tuesday. Bowen was diagnosed with ALS in 2010.
Bowen founded the Mountain Area Information Network in 1995. MAIN is one of the oldest Internet service providers in the U.S., and it was founded on the principle that it “give citizens, local businesses and nonprofits the option of spending their Internet dollars to support independent media.”
Here’s a sample of Bowen’s philosophy from a 2007 press release about a media reform talk he was to give at Appalachian State University:
A journalist and media literacy educator, Bowen is also founder of Citizens for Media Literacy, an Asheville-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting citizenship via critical thinking about — and citizen access to — the media environment. He has spoken at the Aspen Institute, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, and all three National Conferences on Media Reform.
Bowen will discuss how a commercial media system, concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, is failing to serve the democratic goal of an “informed citizenry” envisioned by the nation’s founders.
“The commercial media system limits our national dialogue by chopping up the world into sound-bites and sensational images,” Bowen said.
“To add insult to injury, this system then forces our political candidates to pay astronomical sums of money to buy access to the public airwaves that, theoretically, belong to the American people. This system is deeply dysfunctional, undemocratic, and ripe for reform,” he said.
Bowen, who also pushed for the construction of modern fiber optic networks to serve low-income people in rural areas, was a nationally recognized speaker on media reform topics, and he addressed the U.S. Congress on the topic. Bowen won numerous awards for his work, including the Donald H. McGannon Award for Social and Ethical Relevance in Communications Technology Research just last month.
The website dailyyonder.com posted a story today collecting colleagues thoughts on Bowen’s passing. From the site:
Wally Bowen, a familiar and friendly face in national efforts to create better communications policy for rural America, and a leader in demonstrating the use of innovative technology, has died. Bowen’s colleagues reflect on his contribution to policies and programs that help rural America connect.
Bowen saw a slow and steady decline in his health since his diagnosis five years ago. Here’s what Bowen said about his disease in an October 2014 opinion piece for the Asheville Citizen-Times about research funding for ALS:
I learned this sad truth four years ago this month when I was diagnosed with ALS. My family, friends and I were buoyed by the hope of stem cell therapy to arrest and even cure the disease. But we soon learned that the clinical trials for this promising treatment were too small, too few and too preliminary to benefit me.
I can no longer walk or use my arms and hands. I’m losing the ability to speak, and breathing has become more difficult. I sleep with a ventilator to preserve the remaining muscles around my diaphragm. Hope has taken a backseat to my focus on living each day mindfully and in the moment. But I haven’t lost hope. The Ice Bucket Challenge has rekindled it, because it represents broad public support for finding a cure for ALS. That effort requires a multi-year surge in federal funding.
Rest in Peace, Wally ~~ I know it was a long and difficult struggle. And, now, it is over. But YOU will live on in all of our hearts.
Really sorry to learn this. MAIN was my first internet provider here, and I dearly loved WPVM radio. Honor & respect for his efforts to assist; sympathies to his family & friends.