Winner of the 1997 McGannon Center Research Award Veterans of the high-definition TV wars of the 1980s, the authors, social scientists as well as technologists, came to see themselves as "chroniclers and students of an intriguing and serious techno-economic conflict." Why, they asked, did so few understand the rules of the game? In a broad account accessible to generalist and specialist alike, they address the current national debate about the development of a national information infrastructure, locating the debate in a broad historical narrative that illuminates how we got here and where we may be going, and outlining a bold vision of an open communications infrastructure that will cut through the political gridlock that threatens this "information highway." Technical change the authors argue is creating a new paradigm that fits neither the free market nor regulatory control models currently in play. They detail what is wrong with the political process of the national information infrastructure policy-making and assess how different media systems (telecommunications, radio, television broadcasting,) were originally established, spelling out the technological assumptions and organizational interests on which they were based and showing why the old policy models are now breaking down. The new digital networks are not analogous to railways and highways or their electronic forebears in telephony and broadcasting; they are inherently unfriendly to centralized control of any sort, so the old traditions of common carriage and public trustee regulation and regulatory gamesmanship no longer apply. The authors' technological and historical analysis leads logically toward a policy proposal for a reformed regulatory structure that builds and protects meaningful competition, but that abandons its role as arbiter of tariffs and definer of public service and public interest.
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