micz flor on Sun, 9 Aug 1998 17:21:11 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Gov.Content.Regulation: BT Re-routes Law

Gov.Content.Regulation: BT Re-routes Law 

Micz Flor [micz@yourserver.co.uk] 

Conspiracy theories have to do with government papers; the more 
secretive the paper, the less reliable the source, ergo, the more 
speculative the theory. In this case, the government paper can be 
found online (see below). Between the lines of the paper on the 
Multimedia Revolution by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and 
Sport you find the first draft of the worst case scenario of the 
internet's future... in other words: how the government might escape 
the catch 22 of content regulation without legitimate power.  
'Regulation' in the media has long been defined in 'negative' and 
'positive' terms. Negative regulation implies, "preventing the 
transmission of undesirable material". Positive regulation can be 
understood as a pseudonym for public service broadcasting: "the 
requirement to produce programming of a certain character". "The 
government's approach to internet regulation is to encourage 
voluntary action". But "by its very nature the internet is 
international" and therefore potentially "escaping the entire 
national infrastructure and thus national regulation". In other 
words: it seems almost impossible to superimpose law and order onto 
the internet, based on "the full force of the existing law". And the 
report concludes that "over time, public sector regulation of 
content will become increasingly difficult; technology will erode 
the state's capacity to intervene." 
That is certainly undesirable from a governmental point of view, so 
the state should look for possible spanners to throw in the works 
and stop the wide spread of the internet. That would be easy. To 
name but a few: "the Telecommunications Act 1984 and the 
Broadcasting Act 1990 prevent public telecommunications operators 
from conveying or providing entertainment services nationally to 
homes." That means that "BT [is] theoretically in breach of the 
'broadcast ban' when more than one viewer watche[s] the same 
broadcast over the Internet." It is questionable if anything could 
bring the internet to a halt at this stage, but it would certainly 
shake the global network if the government would act upon the 
realisation that something seems to be kind-of-quite-dodgy. 
But the government loves the internet. Let's have a blueprint of 
that *long boom*, shall we? The internet has long been hailed as the 
god given solution to unemployment, drug problems, rehabilitation, 
under population, hay fever and the next world cup...you name it! 
The *accelerated* development and ballistic increase of 'users' are 
somehow being mistaken for economic growth and/or human progress. 
What's the difference between information and education, secure work 
and flexible work force? You tell me! The figures look right - 
whatever *growth* those steep figures represent. 
That's the catch 22. On the one hand the state desires the growth 
and spread of the internet. On the other hand they despise the very 
nature of the internet, the lateral and apparently chaotic 
architecture of content which ridicules old models of content 
regulation as seen on TV. 
In both cases the concerns relate to a mass audience which will only 
be reached through a much better broadcasting quality and 
facilitation than currently available online: "there are technical 
barriers to the transmission of high quality audio-visual material 
over the Internet, but these are diminishing and show signs of all 
but disappearing." We might naively assume that this should make the 
regulatory bodies fairly unhappy. Those will be the times when it 
matters that "the regulation of content will [be] difficult". 
Paradoxically, the government "is committed to encouraging the rapid 
roll-out of broader-band networks throughout the country". (Let's 
skip BT's breach for the time being.) Expand your mind and it 
becomes clear that the acceleration of streaming quality might be 
the best (and only) way to create alternatives to regulatory bodies 
without any existing legitimate power. The increase in bandwidth 
obviously will soon attract video on demand and online streaming of 
TV channels. It is only a question of time before the many to many 
users will be turned into passive recipients of top down streaming - 
merely because the production of equally 'professional' material 
will be just as expensive as producing TV programmes today. 
The acceleration of high bandwidth channels will (almost naturally) 
change the face of the internet and push the independent producers 
to the periphery. Yes, there will be a periphery! And that will be 
neglectable, if not regulatable... If most users are being kept by a 
small number of companies specialised in high bandwidth content 
production, then it would be good to buy lunches for those directors 
fairly frequently. That will be the lobby for the replacement of 
public service broadcasting with the Gentlemen's Agreement 
And then what? The 80s are back - with a vengeance! *Old* models of 
top down structures and the appropriate criticism will be revived. 
We can all wrap up our Deleuze and Guattari and dust down the old 
Chomsky. Some will start writing about the parallels of early 80s 
community access channels for TV and the global network of the www. 
And they will point out once more that *people* would have been 
happy to commission *shows*, but didn't have the energy to actively 
engage in the production of meaning. Oh, what the heck...


     [this article was written for Crash Media 

Micz Flor [micz@yourserver.co.uk]

[t/f]+44.151.7092663 [t]+44.161.2956157 [a]http://www.art-bag.net
[b]http://www.yourserver.co.uk [c]http://www.metamute.com
[q] "There is no administrative production of meaning."
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