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Published: March 28, 2008 at 04:22 PM GMT
Last Updated: March 28, 2008 at 04:22 PM GMT
Children born in America this year will be the first true Digital Natives of the Information Age. They will grow up in a time when all of their telecommunications tools: video, voice and data are based completely upon digital technology. It is an interesting historical footnote, to be sure. But it made me wonder: “What will their rights be as Digital Citizens of the United States? Does our public policy contemplate a future constrained by the agendas of big business or will it position America to truly prosper in the global information economy?
An average broadband connection in the United States is 1.5 Mbps down and 768 Kbps up -- about enough speed to watch a fairly low resolution streaming video or do some casual web surfing. Cable modems are faster and you can certainly purchase more connectivity, if you can afford it. But, on average, consumers are offered asymmetrical (faster download/slower upload) broadband connections and no one seems that unhappy about it. They should be.
A child born in Korea or Singapore this year will be a digital native of their respective countries. They will grow up in a time when all of their telecommunications tools: video, voice and data are based completely upon digital technology. And they are very likely to start their journey through the Internet with 100 Mpbs symmetrical broadband connection.
Let’s see. American Digital Natives 1.5 Mpbs, other competing countries 100 Mpbs. You don’t need to be a technologist or a mathematician to do this calculation. They have 100 of something we have 1.5 of. They can move information much faster than we can.
In practice, this is a real problem. Information = currency. This is well understood. If you have exclusive information, you can easily convert it to cash. As ever, the flow of information equates to economic success. So it logically follows that the faster one can move information, the more successful one is likely to be. From battlefield to Bloomberg terminal this is an immutable law of the doing of life. How long can America maintain its Super Power status in the Information Age? The simple answer is, only as long as its digital citizens have the ability to move information faster than any competitive entity in the global information economy.
America is used to being “the” Super Power. This term, once reserved for our military- industrial complex, has been broadened, by common usage, to refer to all of our technological prowess. “American Technology” is widely regarded (by average American citizens) as the best in the world. Many would argue that we have already abdicated this role, but assuming we’re still at or near the top – how long can we stay there?
We need to understand that other countries around the world do not have legacy infrastructure owned by private companies. Our private enterprises, with private agendas are tasked with helping our Digital Citizens compete with foreign governments and their public agendas. Our side is thinking about corporate profits, their side is thinking about global competition in the Information Age.
On February 17, 2009 analog television will cease to exist. It will be replaced with digital television. To facilitate the switch, the government gave licensed broadcasters the rights to new “digital” airwaves and put their old “analog” airwaves up for auction. The big winners were America’s two largest telecommunications companies, Verizon and AT&T. Although it sounds like business as usual (big telecommunications companies buying up digital spectrum) this is anything but business as usual.
The groundwork has now been laid for America’s digital telecommunications future. Our access to bandwidth and our ability to move information around the Internet is now firmly in the hands of a very few organizations. What, if anything, should we do about it?
It is time to start a public policy debate on this issue. What are our rights as Digital Citizens of the United States? Are we entitled to high-speed wireless on par with other countries? Should we have the right to use the public airwaves to create private mesh networks? Will we get to use the “white space” in the television spectrum to create truly public, unlicensed applications? Will we, as a nation, have a public policy that allows America to compete with other digital superpowers or, will we become a country of digital have-nots, unable to compete in a larger world?
This is an extraordinarily complex issue and it is well beyond the capabilities of any one individual to think through. What I propose is a series of public policy debates. We’ll bring together representatives from all areas of the telecommunications space and government and together, we’ll draft a comprehensive policy recommendation that we can bring to the leadership.
We need to articulate a clear vision for our technological future and we need to start right now. You can help. To get involved, please visit www.shellypalmer.com and join the US Digital Citizenship mailing list. We are putting together a series of Digital Citizenship workshops and conferences at major trade shows. We would welcome your participation.
Shelly Palmer is Managing Director of Advanced Media Ventures Group LLC and the author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV (2006, Focal Press). Shelly is also President of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, NY (the organization that bestows the coveted Emmy® Awards). He is the Vice-Chairman of the National Academy of Media Arts & Sciences an organization dedicated to education and leadership in the areas of technology, media and entertainment. Palmer also oversees the Advanced Media Technology Emmy® Awards which honors outstanding achievements in the science and technology of advanced media. You can read Shelly’s blog here. Shelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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