New media broadcasting online consultation: What is new media broadcasting?

The following is my first submission to the New Media Broadcasting online consultation. I spent a few hours on the site this afternoon and made other contributions, but this was my main one.

What is new media broadcasting?

In order to discuss new media broadcasting, we need to first discuss what is actually new about this media. I believe there are a few key changes: ownership/control of tools, design criteria of communications networks, and new methods of production/distribution/funding.

1) In the past, the capital costs for the technical tools necessary to record/create, edit and communicate were very expensive. This meant that only those who could accumulate those high capital costs could own and control these technologies. We now live in a society where the economics allow individual citizens to own and control these tools.

2) In the past, communications networks were designed such that the communications networks were smart, but the terminals owned or otherwise used by citizens were dumb. This is true of the phone networks, as well as broadcast undertakings. The Internet used what is called “End to End design” where the networks are deliberately dumb, and the intelligence is in the endpoints of the communication. This has allowed for unprecedented innovation at the endpoints where this innovation did not require permission from or any additional payment to the intermediaries managing the dumb network. When Sr. Tim Berners Lee created the World Wide Web he was able to do so by authoring software intended to be run at the endpoints of the conversation (a client that would request and display documents, and a server that would answer requests and send documents to the client). Is it well understood that the World Wide Web (as well as most Internet innovation) would not have been possible if permission or additional payment was required.

3) The two technological changes above lead to advancements in methods of production, distribution and funding of human creativity and innovation. We now have production methods known as Peer Production (See: Yochai Benkler’s book _The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom_ ), and motivation models for creativity that require very low or in many cases no royalty payment. We now have an unprecedented participation by individual citizens in their own media, and for their own reasons (social, political, cultural, economic, etc), far beyond what could ever be possible with traditional thinking about commercial media and broadcasting.

We need to have policy that embraces and protects these technical, economic and social changes. Unfortunately, much of what we have seen in government policy in recent years has been headed in the opposite direction, protecting old-media incumbents against new-media competition.

We can see this in each of the above listed criteria:

1) Policies allegedly justified to protect “copyright”, as well as other such policy, are seeking to revoke citizen control over technology and vest it with some third party. In the case of so-called “Digital Rights Management” (DRM) the control over tangible communications technology is vested in the hands of the manufacturers of devices. These manufacturers lock down devices without passing the keys on to the owners of the devices, allowing the manufacturers to be free to implement in software policy which benefits themselves or their strategic partners (often against the interests of the owner of the device). While some of these partners are in the cultural sector, there is nothing that mandates that the public-regulating policy implemented in these devices in any way match the balance struck in public policy such as copyright. In fact, there is considerable concern that the policy implemented by these manufacturers will greatly harm the interests of independent creators.

The reality is that from a purely technical standpoint, creativity and copyright infringement are the identical activities. Citizens record things, they edit things, and they communicate things. There is no technological way to differentiate copyright infringement from creativity, so this area of policy must be left to be enforced by humans (copyright holders, police, courts, parliaments) and not attempted to be enforced in technology.

It is important for policy makers to understand the nature of software. At the highest level, software is simply a set of rules which a computer obeys. It can also be said that laws and regulation are a set of rules which humans obey. We need to stop thinking of software as being like technology, and instead recognize its regulatory roll. A good source to understand this is Lawrence Lessig’s book _Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace_ .

As part of my work in this area of policy I have authored and manage a Petition to protect Information Technology Property Rights

2) Those managing traditional phone and cable networks wish to retain their lucrative “smart network” configurations. Some are attempting to effectively relabel their smart networks and claim that it is the “Internet”. They have been known to abuse their privileged right-of-way access to customer premises in order to inflict “network management policy” which is not accountable or transparent, and which appears to have the overall policy goal of “putting the Internet genie back in its bottle”.

While I believe that a variety of network management policies should be allowed by governments, we need to ensure that the fundamental “dumb networks, smart terminals” design of the Internet is preserved. This conversation often comes under the title of “Network Neutrality”, but there are a variety of different and sometimes incompatible policy proposals that come under that title.

I have made one free market based proposal that would involve splitting up the phone and cable companies by separating out the “distribution” component from other aspects of their services. The “distribution” component is a natural monopoly, and is best managed as a utility (preferably by the appropriate levels of government), while the other aspects of the service could then become highly competitive in the private sector.

An ideal future communications infrastructure, how do we get there, and what is stopping us!

Note: This policy change recognizes convergence. A required change at the CRTC is to break down the existing silos between telecommunications policy and broadcast undertaking policy. New communications media offer multi-way voice communication and one-to-many broadcasting as configuration options, and these types of services should no longer be considered as or regulated as if they were separate sectors of the economy.

3) Industry associations and unions of persons and companies who have most benefit from traditional business models are making policy proposals to benefit their methods over competing methods. There are a wide variety of such proposals, but since most of these have been launched as part of “Copyright” proposals I will not repeat them here.

The important thing for policy makers to understand is that there is now a wide variety of methods of production, distribution and funding and they should no longer subsidize or otherwise privilege one method over the wider variety of choices.

Russell McOrmond
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