Phyllis Beveridge Nissila Perhaps you’ve seen the recent article in hollywoodreporter.com citing Norway as the first country planning to shut down its FM band in favor of digital-only radio. The shutdown is slated for Jan. 11, 2017, the last FM transmission to be aired in December of 2016.*
“That will likely be the opening move in a global transition to digital radio,” notes reporter Scott Roxborough.
At least in Norway’s case, this move is in the interest of “access to more diverse and pluralistic radio content and […] better sound quality and new functionality,” as Norway’s Ministry of Culture puts it.
The rest of Europe will likely follow.
According to Roxborough, “Other Scandinavian countries as well as the U.K. are thought to be considering an FM switch-off by 2022. The digital rollout in other European countries has been slower, with old FM radio still proving more popular in several territories.”
And on this side of the pond, many believe that unless the people of the United States of America stand up for our First Amendment right to freedom of speech-over-the-air, we might see the re-imposition of a FCC censorship program known as the “Fairness Doctrine,” “a blatant attempt to effectively muzzle nascent talk radio programs of all politically-incorrect persuasions, that was struck down some two-plus decades ago.” **
So, is there much hope for any more real debate over “Net Neutrality,” in the current rehash of the recently voted (FCC Chairman Wheeler) initiative that failed under prior FCC Chairman Genachowski?
See what you think.
THE REST OF THE NEWS
As is usually the case when I think something interesting is going on in the world of technology, of which I know relatively little, I query my brother.** He knows a lot about this stuff.
And, sure enough, there is more to this story:
“Not only over-the-air local FM stations in foreign countries, but also high-power international AM shortwave stations are gradually ‘going dark,’ (as in, being phased out),” he told me. “Programming for traditional radio broadcast channels will eventually be available only on local digital audio broadcasting (DAB) or streaming on the Internet. International high-power shortwave stations that can be received directly from foreign countries will eventually go away entirely.”
It is his opinion that “the long-term goal is everything on a (name-your-regulator) controlled Internet.”
And he is not given to tinfoil hats, as his vitae, below, confirms.
To help me understand why he and other broadcast engineers are very concerned, he used the analogy of a bus where digital communications sessions (in what’s called a “shared capacity” format) ride “bundled together” with just so many seats available inside the bus, while traditional AM/FM radio stations (in what’s called one-to-many “dedicated capacity”) ride solo, you might say, “free-to-air” outside the technical constraints of the bus.
Each format is needed and serves its purpose. Where the concern—and trouble—comes in has little to do with technology and everything to do with power and control.
Depends on who owns it and who controls it.
My brother explained how in the shared capacity format each separate, user communication device (what gadgets are in your pocket and on your desk?) is more easily controlled by those “at the wheel” (with regulatory authority over permitted content), because there are only so many seats on that bus. And, they all have to “cooperate” with the driver/controller in order to ride along the transmission rail.
However, one-to-many dedicated capacity radio (and television) stations are much harder to control in certain ways as each goes off into its own direction, as it were. All potential listeners/viewers within the RF signal range of a transmitter have equal, unfettered access to the content of the channel without limitation, intrusion or self-identification (read: track-proof) in any way. The individually unique channel programming is as independent as are the listeners and sponsors they depend on to survive, he says.
So, outside of commercial breaks, news feeds, emergency broadcast protocols and standard FCC regulations, if Mom and Pop on K-FREE want to air sermons 24 hours a day, classical or CW music, or red hot political commentary, left or right (“and” in some cases), they are free to do so pending listener feedback and sponsor support.
With so many diverse (in the original meaning of the word) opinions that make up a free society, these scattered broadcast outposts and inposts (rural and city) would be much harder to control, in a sense.
Obviously, in a free market, we needn’t worry too much about control going too far to the dark (as in, “not good”) side as the checks and balances in a free market (e.g., competition and legal and governmental aid to reign in marketplace predators) help keep private investors constantly tuned to what might make it hard for them to balance their checkbooks.
But, where competition for control comes from, say, a source where money is no object (because maybe it is other people’s money, as in, say, yours and mine, as in, say, taxes, as in, say, the kind of taxes where we have little to no real representation anymore…) the dark side may well emerge.
And if furthermore, say, the dark-side controllers mix politics and ideologies with this seeming open-ended (and funded) quest for control, well, you know what they say about power. Corruption cannot be far down the pipeline.
And how dark, dark is no one really knows. Yet.
Now, if YOU were at the wheel of the New Diversity Express, which communication system would be easier to control? Do you think?
And which would be harder to control? Do you think?
And which would YOU want to, ah, phase out?
BUT AREN’T DIGITIZED COMMUNICATIONS MORE, WELL, FAIR?
Of course, the spin on digitizing the news on the shared capacity bus, so to speak, includes liberal references to “diversity” and “pluralistic content,” and the like, as coined by such as the good folks at the Ministry of Culture.
Saves money, too! They say.
(By the way, does anybody else get a 1984/Brave New World kind of chill at the sound of that title? And, wait a minute, isn’t the Ministry part of the government over there, not the private sector? Ah….)
Anyway, back to the regularly scheduled commercial.
And the terms diversity and pluralistic sound so fine! (Good job, Ministry of Newspeak!)
But, even better, won’t those little independent, Mom and Pop radio stations still be around and sounding even better and reaching more people because now they will be on the Internet?
Once again: It Depends.
And we’re back to: Who drives the bus, as in, the regulatory authority over which entity and what content is permitted.
Who would determine if, say, Mom and Pop could even board, though there might be seats available, if there is not an equal amount of opposing opinion/programming on board, too? (You see, some folks who understand the fine print have been reading “the bill,” this time, before passage, and these troubling questions just don’t go away.)
In other words, re: fairness, how might the bus drivers be smithing “diversity” and “pluralistic”? “Fairness”?
But even if the folks ARE “let on board” what happens if they eventually develop opinions that the Ministry of Culture or the Department of Inclusivity, or the Czar of Neutrality, or whomever, deem “unfair”?
Worse, what if the Bus Company CEO were to gain (however he may) some kind of over-reaching type power that even his Board of Directors could not, for the life of them, seem to override? For some reason.
What happens then?
Has anybody checked on that canary?
** Gregory J. Beveridge
Mr. Beveridge is a telecommunications senior executive with 40 years of industry experience in broadcast engineering, public switched telephony, cable television and hosted applications service provider businesses. Formerly the President of Beveridge Consulting, Inc., Mr. Beveridge also previously served as Vice President for Digital Transport and Technical Operations with AuraServ Communications, Vice President – Technology Strategy for MediaOne (now Comcast), and Chief of Technology for U S West International, Inc. (now CenturyLink). He now holds fifteen U.S. and international patents. Mr. Beveridge sits on the Technical Committee and the Community Advisory Board of KBDI-TV, a public television station in Denver, Colorado. He is a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, a past member of IEEE, an Extra-class Amateur Radio operator (call sign WB7AHO), and a past board member of Telenet Flanders in Belgium. Mr. Beveridge graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electronic Engineering Technology from Arizona State University.
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