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Fascinating Unasked Questions of Bush and the Media

Is the News of the Death of the Media Monopoly Exaggerated or is it Right on Time?

30 April 2002

By Jock Gill for Democrats.com

AOL Time Warner may just have a bad cold. Despite the current collapse of its stock value, maybe everything for the media behemoth is going to be just fine. Then again, perhaps AOL Time Warner and the other media conglomerates built on broadcast licenses are really dead men walking. What if their business model – derived from 18th century publishing and 20th century licensing of scarce broadcast spectrum – just will not work in a 21st century world driven by Moore's law, connectivity, abundant capacity, and pervasive computing?

The wealth and power of AOL Time Warner are built on scarcity and a role for government that manages this scarcity. Without scarcity there could be no colossal aggregation of audiences so that most everyone is watching a handful of pretty much identical programs. But the right question to be asking today is "what is the channel capacity of spectrum?" As former MIT professor David P. Reed explained recently in his presentation to the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council, "Interference is not what you think it is. Signals do not damage each other, they pass through each other." Information is only lost in receivers and is thus simply an architectural and technical problem.

I urge people to listen to Reed’s compelling presentation on these matters, given at the Friday April 26th and available in RealAudio

What Reed helps us understand is that our telecommunications future, as well as future economic growth, are being held hostage by a regulatory regime based upon the telecom world as it was in 1932, well before Shannon's work in information theory, the invention of radar, the invention of the micro chip, and the advent of pervasive computing. One result is that the FCC ends up favoring companies while damaging the proper functioning of the market and creating obstacles to the commercialization of new innovations. This is a very odd unintended distortion.

Isn't it about time we all realized that the Emperor at the FCC is wearing no clothes? Or at best a very old and shabby threadbare suit?

The first talk on in this streaming media file is by Vanu Bose of Vanu, Inc. Vanu does very interesting work in Software Defined Radios. They may well be key to enabling us to do try many solutions to maximizing capacity without having to specify a rigid hardware, technical or regulatory regime.

The "problem" of media and telecom regulation is not one of scarcity, it is one of abundance. But to get to telecom nirvana we may have to roll over the gigantic obstacles standing in the way, the multi-billion dollar corporations who are so good at using the power of the government to defend their profits and privileges. Then again, if we’re lucky, they will be undercut by new technologies and collapse under their own weight.

So maybe the reports of the death of AOL Time Warner and the other huge, reactionary, highly controlled media outlets has been exaggerated. Then again, perhaps the reports are right on time.

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