Frederick Noronha on Sat, 15 May 1999 06:54:18 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Now, Community Internet Radio... /// Cable Radio

This is from Arun Mehta in India...-FN

Community Internet Radio proposal 


The Indian government has been almost paranoid in its control over 
the electronic media. While TV has enjoyed a modicum of private 
enterprise via satellite broadcasting, radio has almost totally 
remained in government hands. Some loosening of the government 
hold is expected in the forthcoming broadcasting bill, however, 
there are likely to be stringent regulations relating to ownership and
content. Even after this bill comes into effect, NGOs will hardly be able
to afford to set up radio stations with substantial reach.  

A new avenue has opened up for community radio, delivered via the 
Internet. Its advantages are global reach, low costs for the 
broadcaster, and freedom from government regulation. Its major 
disadvantage is that the listener needs access to a computer 
connected to the Internet.  

While the new Internet policy in India is expected to trigger massive
private sector investment in the Internet, little of that money will flow
towards rural areas in the normal course. This is because the Internet so
far has by and large only been usable by people who know English,
very few of whom can be found in villages.Audio applications such asInternet
radio and telephony have the potential to change that, as they do not
require the ability to write, and are equally accessible to people
speaking any language. However, for them to take off, they must be able to
reach the masses, which cannot happen as long as each listener is expected
to have a PC and a telephone. We propose to use the Internet for radio in
a manner that makes such broadcasts available to the poor.  

The technology of Internet Radio 

Companies such as Real Networks ( have developed 
software that allows radio broadcasting via the Internet.  Radio 
player software, which allows Internet radio reception on any PC 
with a sound card, is available free of cost.  For production and 
distribution of radio programs, low-cost Real Audio server software 
has to be installed on a computer connected to the Internet for the 
duration of the broadcast. To listen to Internet radio, the listener has
simply to log onto the Internet and run the Player software to connect to
the Real Audio server. If the software is properly set up, listening to
Internet radio is in some ways simpler than listening to a conventional
radio. Every week, over 145,000 hours of live sports, music, news and
entertainment are broadcast in this manner over the Internet.  

However, the size of the Internet user population is only a small 
subset of the target population for a radio station. For community 
radio, this is an unacceptable limitation. The question therefore 
arises, as to how a radio broadcast arriving at a computer 
connected to the Internet (which we can call a relay station) could 
be propagated further.  

Our proposed scheme 

In our scheme, each village would contain a community information 
center, containing a mutimedia PC connected to the Internet, 
which, of course, could be used for many different purposes that 
we are all familiar with. On this community PC, a Real Audio or 
equivalent server could be installed, which in effect would convert 
this PC into a radio station, which people could use to tape and 
disseminate audio content. There are at least two ways to provide 
low-cost access to Internet radio broadcasts. In the "dumb" 
approach, the output of the sound card on the computer can be
fed to an amplifier, and distributed over ordinary copper wire to
surrounding houses, each of which only needs a loudspeaker.  In 
the "smart" model, audio signals could be distributed from the 
community PC using either twisted-pair telephone wires, or the 
coaxial cable used by Cable TV operators. Installed in each house 
in the village that wished to receive radio broadcasts, would be a 
small Internet radio, consisting of a simple embedded 
microcomputer, a loudspeaker, a microphone and a couple of
buttons for channel selection. While the dumb radio would only 
allow the listener to listen to a single broadcast set at the 
community center, the smart radio would allow choice, as well as 
the ability to interact. 

Such a smart device does not yet exist, but the technology that it 
would be based on is well-known: basically, it would be a stripped 
down computer, containing no keyboard, storage devices or 
monitor. It should be possible to design such a device such that in 
large quantities it can be made for $30 or possibly even much less -
- in any case, the price of such electronic hardware is constantly 
falling. Within a few years, it should be possible to make similar 
wireless radios at affordable prices as well. 

The radio, of course, would not just be able to receive audio content
produced at the local community center -- via the Internet, it could
receive broadcasts from all over the world.  Thus, each community would be
able to set up its own radio station with multiple channels, that people
could receive worldwide. The microphone in the smart Internet radio could
allow people to participate in talk shows and in audio conferences, as
well as reap the benefits of Internet telephony. This would help people
who have migrated from the community to stay in touch with their families.

This model is similar to that of Cable TV (though orders of 
magnitude cheaper) and thus may be called Cable Radio.  A 
demonstration of this system and an assessment of the 
associated costs and benefits would encourage Internet Service 
Providers (ISPs) to take a closer look at rural communities as 
potential clients, and to invest in the additional hardware
and software required to bring services such as Internet radio to 
them. In addition, this would encourage NGOs to make community 
radio part of their plans for disseminating information pertaining to
literacy, health and other useful campaigns....

Arun Mehta,  
B-69, Lajpat Nagar-I,  
New Delhi-110024.  

Phone 6841172, 6849103     
                           Radio Bridge Overseas
                             98 Ridgeway North
                            Borrowdale / Harare
                      phone / fax : +263 - 4 - 882483

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