We’re continuing to see parallels between the world overall and the world of technology; between global economic issues and tech issues. It’s so logical (the parts conform, after all, to the Model of the Whole) that you have to wonder if it’s an accident!
Egypt is proving that online social network services can build a rebellion, but not necessarily create an alternative to what’s being rebelled against. Governments, and even more so societies, are complex systems that arise either through the clever planning of a small group of very knowledgeable people or through a protracted period of trial and error that can generate disastrous missteps.
Telecommunications policy, and broadband policy in particular, are impacted by the same dichotomy. We have successfully torn down the “old” model of public networking but we’ve not yet created something that can provably replace it. The challenges of today are rooted back as far as the Modified Final Judgment in the early ‘80s that launched global privatization of telecom. From that moment to this, we’ve taken each step largely based on public outcry over the effects of the last rather than studied assessment of the likely consequences.
The FCC now says that Universal Service is Universal Broadband, for example. If broadband is shifting its application to delivery of online video, isn’t that the same as saying that everybody should get free cable or satellite, or have their services subsidized? The FCC says that the Internet is an open conduit for information, where everyone should have an equal chance to deliver their products/services to consumers. Is it then something like spectrum, whose use we regulate in the public good? You get the picture here. Taken in isolation, these decisions or steps are logical, but we’re creating new definitions by default, by rejecting old ones without replacing them. What entitles a “service” to be judged “universal”? What is a “neutral” or “open” Internet?
Congress is likely to get a shot at privacy with legislation due to be introduced that would set standards for tracking. Congress already has a bill that says that under no conditions can content providers be asked to pay for handling of traffic. Maybe Billy Joel had the right idea:
They will tell you, you can’t sleep alone in a strange place
Then they’ll tell you, you can’t sleep with somebody else
Ah, but sooner or later you sleep in your own space
Either way it’s okay to wake up with yourself.
We’re closing off economic doors everywhere, and yet economics are the foundation of all markets. Everybody in a commercial framework has to make money, and so some set of people have to pay it. Otherwise, the market wakes up eventually as an empty definition; a bazaar with neither sellers nor buyers because it has no currency of exchange.
The success of the iPhone, of Android, and the growing success of tablets is an indicator of revolution that’s as clear and as convulsive as could be represented by demonstrators in an Egyptian square. But it’s also a revolution, a rebellion, and not a replacement. Creating a new way to consume information doesn’t create a new information market, only new demand. There has to be a New Supply too. The question in telecom, as in Egypt, is whether the forces of change act faster than the forces of reconstruction. Anarchy is the default form of government, and also the default state of a market. It’s not typically the desired state for either one.
Are we seeing the failure of the “social” or “crowdsource” model here on a geopolitical and market scale? I wonder. Ask a million people a question and you’ll likely get a consensus, but not necessarily the right answer. Is a true popular democracy, or a true consumeristic market, doomed to fail because it is incapable of creating a functional system for its own operation? I wonder that too.