Table of contents
Part 1
What are ICT and internet policies?
Part 2
The internet, markets and access
Part 3
National ICT and internet policy and regulation
Part 4
Specific issues in internet policy and regulation
Part 5
Appendices
Organisations active in ICT
Glossary
Bibliography

1.1. Information and communication technologies

- Convergence

Information and communication are integral to human society. In many cultures today, information retrieval and presentation – the recording of wisdom and history – is still done with the use of speech, drama, painting, song or dance. The use of writing changed this enormously, and the invention of the printing press allowed communication on a massive scale, through newspapers and magazines. More recent technological innovations increased further the reach and speed of communication, culminating, for now, with digital technology. These new ICTs can be grouped into three categories:
Information technology uses computers, which have become indispensable in modern societies to process data and save time and effort
Telecommunications technologies include telephones (with fax) and the broadcasting of radio and television, often through satellites
Networking technologies, of which the best known is the internet, but which has extended to mobile phone technology, Voice Over IP telephony (VOIP), satellite communications, and other forms of communication that are still in their infancy.

Information Technology

Telecommunications Technology:

Networking Technology:

  • computer hardware and peripherals

  • software
  • computer literacy
  • Telephones system

  • Radio and TV broadcasting
  • Internet

  • Mobile telephones

  • Cable, DSL, satellite and other broadband connectivity

These new technologies have become central to modern societies, affecting all aspects of modern life. Whether you are talking on the phone, sending an email, going to the bank, using a library, listening to a sports coverage on the radio, watching the news on TV, working in an office or in the field, going to the doctor, driving a car or catching a plane, you are using ICTs.

Convergence

The new ICTs do not operate in isolation from one another. The advantages and reach of the internet make it a focal point for the use of new technologies. Its decentralised, widely-distributed, packet-based mode of transporting information makes it an efficient, cheap and flexible means of communication, which facilitates interrelationship with other technologies. So, for example, international telephone calls are increasingly made through the internet’s network of networks, and television and radio are broadcast via the internet. Today’s Local Area Networks must be connected to the internet and secure copies of data (backups) are now made through the internet rather than onto a local drive. Software, music and video can be rented through the internet, sometimes without even requiring a copy on the local computer. The internet is accessible through mobile phone networks, which use it to present content to the user, and digital movies will be soon distributed through the internet to cinemas. The list is long and getting longer by the day.

Not only are new technologies converging in this way, the areas where they are applied are also becoming interrelated. Telecommunications are firmly based on computer technology, and are fundamentally dependent on the internet. For example, the software that makes computers so useful is now often created by a team of programmers who may live and work in different countries, but can collaborate and communicate via the internet. Telephone companies are increasingly using VOIP to reduce their international communications costs. Consumer commodities too are becoming dependent on the internet. This is especially true of electronic devices and appliances, such as audio and DVD recorders and players, or refrigerators.

This convergence happens not only at a technological level, where everything is in bits (binary digital form) and the internet is the main way of moving this information from place to place, but also at the level of industry. These days, a large internet service provider will probably also be linked to a telecommunications infrastructure company, and have subsidiaries that produce software or own an internet search engine. The important media multinationals are buying heavily into internet technology as they see it as the physical and conceptual infrastructure for media in the future. This has led to a situation where telecommunication giants are also multimedia giants with huge investments in internet technologies. The same company that broadcasts your favourite TV programme may also be the one that allows you to access the internet, or pro-vides your ISP with its connection to the rest of the internet. The movie you watch at your local cinema may well be produced by a media multinational that owns your local newspaper and also a telephone company that runs a main internet portal.

Convergence: the case of America Online Time Warner
Companies absorbed or created by AOL Time Warner:
- internet service providers: America On Line, Compuserve,
- Software: Netscape, ICQ, AOI Wireless
- Television: CNN, HBO, Time Warner Cable,
- Music (mp3), Warner Music,
- Film and video: Warner Bros,
- Magazines: Time, People, etc
- Books: Warner Books, Little & Brown, book store chains, etc

Convergence: the case of AT&T
Traditionally the long distance telephone operator in the USA, AT&T is now a major internet carrier and infrastructure provider, with four major sections: AT&T Broadband, AT&T Business, AT&T Consumer, and AT&T Wireless. It has expanded into the multimedia field by acquiring all or part of these companies:

- TV: Telecommunications Inc, Liberty Media Group (Discovery Channel, Encore, etc)
- TV Guide
- Broadband access and portals: Excite At Home
- AOL Time Warner (9%)
- News Corporation (8%)

Source: McPhail, T. M. (2002)


If technology and industry are coming together around the internet, governments that decide policy and regulate industry must recognise this fact and adapt their policy-making accordingly. For example, there is no point in regulating traditional broadcasting in the usual way if it is being replaced by internet broadcasting which follows a different set of rules. The traditional regulation of broadcasting, involving restricted bandwidths, and huge investment costs, cannot be applied to new forms of broadcasting which require relatively little capital outlay, are instantly global and available to everyone, have open standards that facilitate access in multiple ways, and are decentralised so that coordinated control is very difficult. The notion of intellectual property and copyright changes when all information is digital and can be freely copied and transported. For example, legislation about recorded music must take this into account. Other questions arise: How should workers’ rights to privacy in the workplace be regarded in the context of email and the World Wide Web? What will it mean to regulate telephone call costs when the ability to call via the internet at a much reduced rate becomes generalised?

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