Tag: "future"

Posted June 11, 2012 by christopher

Over the weekend, while listening to an old episode of Star Talk Radio with Neil deGrasse Tyson, I was reminded of just how incredible the open Internet is. And what happens when a few massive corporations dominate the airwaves.

Neil was interviewing Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lt. Uhura on Star Trek - an African-American woman who just happened to be the 4th in command of a starship in the distant future. At about 9 minutes into the podcast, she begins telling an amazing story. In short, she wanted to quit after the first season to do stage productions. But the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and others prevailed on her to continue because her presence on TV was revolutionary.

As someone who grew up watching sports and the Dukes of Hazzard, I never understood why some were so attached to Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. But in listening to this interview I began to understand. Sure, I grew up identifying with "them Duke boys" but what if I hadn't?

Long before the Long Tail, the few channels of television available aimed for the white middle class demographic. Portraying African-Americans in any position of authority was so rare that Neil deGrasse Tyson regularly exclaims that before seeing Star Trek, the science fiction of TVs and movies provided no confirmation that black people would be around in the future.

In 1967, having an African-American woman on television in a position of authority was so novel that one of our greatest Americans, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., went out of his way at an NAACP event to tell her what an inspiration she was to his family.

Big corporations aren't evil. But they have one goal -- increase their profits year after year. During the civil rights era, increasing profits year after year meant avoiding controversy. Somehow Gene Roddenberry broke through with Star Trek, inspiring many who were unused to any positive representation on television.

Unfortunately, in 2012, it seems that maximizing profits includes creating as much controversy as possible - how times have changed.

Nonetheless, we live temporarily in a time when content creators aspire to be "viral." Ten years ago, anyone who had a great idea for a channel had to give partial ownership to Comcast or other powerful corporations to have a chance of people seeing it. Not...

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Posted January 7, 2011 by christopher

Bob Frankston has long been critical of both telecommunications companies and the regulators who are supposed to oversee them (but instead are often captured).

Bob has published a lengthy explanation of what is wrong with the US approach to expanding access to the Internet and the beginnings of an alternate approach. This paragraph from his conclusion is where I'll start:

We have a right to communicate. If we fund infrastructure instead of charging for services we can realize that right.

A number of thoughtful people have made the same comments and I believe we will ultimately build access to the Internet as infrastructure (rather than as discrete services arising from the history of telecommunications), but I'm not sure how we will get there.

Perhaps it helps for some to remember just how far we have some. Most of the people pushing for the government to stop regulating the gatekeepers to the Internet seem not to understand why government regulates telecommunications providers. Simply put, when telecommunications was largely unregulated, they screwed their subscribers.

The FCC defines a “completed call” as one that merely rings. It’s a perfect example of naïve indifference to the larger question of why we are using the phone. To a user (a word that makes us forget we are talking about people) a call is complete when you reach a person or, at least, leave message. Yet the phone companies didn’t allow answering machines until the Supreme Court overruled them in the 1968 Carterfone decision.

This story is repeated again and again because it is at the very heart of the concept of telephony. In 1956 they lost the Hush-A-Phone decision. They tried to prohibit people from putting a box around their phone! That was the extent to which the providers went to preserve control and dictate how you were supposed to use their network.

As Frankston rightly points out (here and elsewhere), the best one can say about regulation is that it has been imperfect. This is one reason we encourage public ownership rather than regulation from an authority closer to those regulated than the people...

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Posted November 8, 2010 by christopher

Andrew Cohill has made some apt observations regarding a likely future of broadband in the United States. The thesis is that a few providers can effectively disrupt the likelihood of an entire community getting next-generation services by locking up key customers. And I agree.

But today, the market for bandwidth continues to grow along a nice smooth curve, with the demand doubling every two years, and we have fifteen years of data to back this up. While the incumbents are busy trying to convince us they can meet this demand with 1950s copper cable plant, smaller telecom firms are busy spreading bits of fiber through communities to cherry pick the more profitable business customers. These companies tend to have no interest in full fiber build outs, and instead just want to lock up a portion of the local business market.

Some [not Cohill] have argued that when local governments stop overpaying for T1 lines and build their own networks to be fiscally responsible, incumbent telcos will be unable to continue investing there due to the reduced revenue. Of course, incumbent telcos have long ago ceased investing in these communities, so the proposition is off from the start. But even if it were true, it is an incredibly inefficient system (no matter how lucrative for the incumbent telcos).

We need to actually start treating broadband as infrastructure (rather than simply talking about it as though it were infrastructure -- which most elected leaders seem to do). This means that when the community needs broadband, they are able to build it themselves and ensure the network will remain accountable to them in the future.

The longer communities wait to build these networks, the more difficult a prospect it will be as private companies continue to pick off the high-revenue easy-to-serve subscribers.

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