1.1. Information and communication
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
• Telecommunications technologies include telephones (with
fax) and the broadcasting of radio and television, often through
• 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.
- Radio and TV broadcasting
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.
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.
the case of America Online Time Warner
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
Warner Books, Little & Brown,
book store chains, etc
Convergence: the case of AT&T
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
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?