Table Of Contents
III. Computers and the Digital Age
IV. Globalization 3.0: The Period of Internet Boom and Bust
V. Beginning of the End of the Monopoly System of Communications
VI. The New Geography of the Global Economy
VII. The World is Flat
VIII. The Future of News and Information
IX. Summary and Observations
References Cited and Further Reading
Globalization – the integration and global interdependence of national economic and political systems – is the result in large part of the worldwide spread of communications. The resulting integration and interdependence is having significant impact on existing communication systems, and creating new uncertain trends in all communications and telecommunications systems in the 21st Century.
Globalization according to The Economist magazine is one of the ten most overused words of this decade. Phrases such as “global corporations,” “global media,” and “global economy,” clearly reflect the term’s popularity, but often its true meaning and implications become lost or obscured.
Nayan Chanda, editor of the online newsletter Yale Global, says globalization means “reconnecting the human community, an effort that began some 50,000 years ago when the earliest forms of man began to travel out of Africa to North and South America and accelerated after Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492. Tribal conquest and the search for better life, or in Columbus’s case the search for oils and spices, were the reasons for the earliest forms of globalization. Faith-based pursuits by religious groups and, more recently, pure curiosity has propelled the worldwide migration of people across the globe.
Transatlantic cables and satellites however, greatly accelerated the interdependence of nations during the past hundred years. In the last decade it has been the worldwide spread of the Internet with its progeny the World Wide Web (“WWW”) that has caused what New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman has called a “flat world.” Friedman calls the latest movement “globalization 3.0”.
In the space of just a few years, the Internet has blossomed from an arcane tool used primarily by academics and government researchers into a worldwide mass communications medium that has rapidly become the backbone of all communications and financial transactions within society and the new global economy. The World Wide Web, invented by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 1990s, provides the geographically based subsystem that ensures even more spectacular growth. The Internet has over a billion users and has been doubling every year over the last ten years. At its current rate, everyone on the planet will have access to the Internet within approximately five years or less.
No previous telecommunications advance – not the telephone, the television, cable television, the VCR, the fax or even the cellular telephone is having more cultural and political impact on the global media landscape than the Internet. It has not just penetrated public consciousness but has secured widespread public adoption.
As nations around the world awaken to the importance of creating a robust communications infrastructure, they will be less dependent and less willing to accept what has been considered a one-way flow of information and communications goods and services from the United States. This undoubtedly places a greater burden on U.S. policy makers to pursue the basic idea of a free, unregulated, unrestricted flow of news, entertainment and information. Clearly trade in information goods and services and the future of journalism itself face new challenges.
In his biography Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician, author Anthony Everitt writes, “even the largest empire the world had seen was created slowly because communications were slow and unreliable.” He points out that although a network of “well engineered roads were constructed, travel was limited” and since Rome had no public postal service, “letters (which were scratched tablets or written on pieces of papyrus) were sent at considerable cost by messenger…The trick by a private correspondent was to persuade a traveler going in the right direction to take his or her post with him and deliver it.”
It wasn’t until the wealthy French financiers the Rothschilds deployed racing pigeons around 1813 that the value of timely communications accelerated the concept of multinational business and finance. The family established a European-wide network of carrier pigeons to capitalize, among other historical events, on Napoleon’s loss at Waterloo, which they knew about first. Call it globalization 2.5 if you will.
Within a decade, the telegraph reduced the reliance on pigeons, but it wasn’t until undersea cables, originally laid for the telegraph, and subsequently used for telephony, that multinational trade and commerce began to accelerate. In 1927, with cooperation between American Telephone & Telegraph (“the Bell system”) and the British Post Office, a program of transatlantic communications between New York and London was begun and a new undersea cable communications infrastructure was created which still exists today.
The next great leap forward occurred in 1957 with the Russian launch of the Sputnik satellite. “About the size of a basketball, but weighing 184 pounds, Sputnik whipped around the globe” according to space writer Leonard David. “Every 98 minutes and with every orbit, Sputnik I thumbed its nose at America’s technological prowess, political esteem in the community of nations, as well as military strength.”
Sputnik I started the so-called “space race.” President John F. Kennedy declared the U.S. would put a man on the moon within a decade and his Administration formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA invested heavily in technology and created today’s communications satellite-based system. In 1962, the Administration formed the Communications Satellite Corporation (Comsat) with the passage of the Communications Satellite Act. This legislation enabled the government, as fifty percent owner, to create a vehicle for the start-up of a new domestic carrier in competition with the existing AT&T monopoly, and a global organization called INTELSAT, (the International Consortium of Satellites). INTELSAT was the predicate for the first worldwide communications system available to every country in the world based upon their individual use and investment.
Within ten years, over eighty countries had joined the INTELSAT system further shrinking the globe and enabling broadcasting as well as telephony to expand exponentially. This innovative effort created yet another communications wave encouraging the growth of multinational and transnational enterprises of all kinds. The global presence of these new multinational corporations accelerated the deregulation and demonopolization of so-called PTTs (Postal, Telephone and Telegraph) or government-owned and run telephone monopolies. As a great deal of new capital was needed to launch competing services, only private companies could afford such expensive enterprises.
Broadcast and related media monopolies, which the government also owned or controlled, were also privatized for the same reasons; new capital was needed to build new media outlets and to satisfy the corporate demand for advertising. The result was striking. In 1980, according to a report by Christina Holtz-Baca and Pippa Norris and published by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, there were only a few commercial television systems in Europe. In slightly over fifteen years however, the balance was reversed with only a few countries – Austria, Ireland and Switzerland – with government monopolies in broadcasting.
The sudden expansion of private TV produced a huge surge in the import of U.S. programming leading to new fears that commercialization of the media was akin to the Americanization, or “electronic colonialism,” of Europe. The same refrain followed in Latin America, Canada, and Asian markets, which like Europe, soon opened their markets to private broadcasting and the deregulation of their public telephone systems. Clearly the forces of capitalism were prevailing, and because of the shortage of national and local programming in the new media markets, again American imports enjoyed the advantage in supplying these burgeoning needs.
As advertiser-supported media has grown, the future of public service broadcasting has been threatened. While there have been several studies which in general have suggested that commercial television produces less news and information, and therefore tends to erode the cultural and political fabric of individual nations, this concern has not been proved. In fact, there is a tendency, Holtz-Baca and Norris argue, toward a sort of “self selection strategy” that is always in operation. In other words, people who prefer news or information tend to watch and prefer non-commercial broadcasting and there is an expectation that commercial television is more for entertainment. Moreover, their research suggests that when commercial channels did provide informational news content there was a kind of “dummying down” of the news or, as they called it “infotainment.” The result is a “tabloidization” of the news with an increase in sensationalism and an emphasis on negativity and personalization.
Governments, nonetheless, responding to public demand for more television options, but not having budgets to subsidize such expansion favored non-commercial advertiser-supported, alternatives. As a consequence, the last 20 years has resulted in a significant increase in advertising to support such initiatives. Indeed, the 2007 worldwide budget for advertising now exceeds $600 billion. This is twice what it was twenty years ago, with most of the growth occurring outside the United States.
While U.S. media and program suppliers are criticized for preventing the development of a critical perspective on society, most nations around the world have successfully established their own – however embryonic -- production outlets to feed ever-growing media distribution channels. This component, related to the development of a robust communications infrastructure, is now widely seen as important to national wealth and well being and essential to participation in the global knowledge society and economy. As a consequence, so-called “national information systems,” economic plans that encourage and support new communications initiatives and infrastructure, are everywhere.
III. Computers and the Digital Age
While there is no doubt that the development of satellites contributed greatly to the expansion of commercial broadcasting throughout Europe in the 1980s and had a similar effect worldwide, it also created the avenue for the global expansion of trade and commerce.
The development of direct broadcasting by satellite (DBS) was also a threat to national hegemony. For example, the mere idea that tiny Luxembourg, with a population under 500,000 people living in an area of less than a thousand square miles, could launch a satellite with a “footprint” covering most of Europe, was threatening to television executives and government policy makers throughout the European Union. Luxembourg, because of its multilingual heritage, was already a commercial broadcaster with international leanings. Its over-the-air signal covered all of Luxembourg and portions of France, Germany and Belgium. Moreover the tiny country decided almost from the beginning of their broadcast history to broadcast programs with advertising in several languages. In the 1980s, CLT the largest commercial broadcaster in Luxembourg launched a medium power satellite service called SES ASTRA, which operates a fleet of satellites covering Europe, North America and Africa.
The real threat to national hegemony and the spur to “globalization 3.0”, as Friedman and others have called it, was the development of the computer. The computer enabled creation of the Internet and with the Internet came “ media convergence,” and a vehicle for the distribution of voice, video and data over a single system.
Currently there are in excess of 1.1 billion Internet users in the world. Depending on the growth of the mobile Internet, with the cell phone industry quickly embracing internet-based protocols, and with cell phone advertising acceptance, it is not unlikely that the world will be “connected” within the next few years.