ISBN: 1565847954

Hardcover, 304 pages

Jeff Chester is the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and a leading advocate and expert on the telecommunications world, and how it directly affects our day to day life.

In his new book Digital Destiny he explores the history, and the current state of government regulation and de-regulation of Big Media.

Mr. Chester paints a very bleak picture. The story opens in 1934 with the ‘Telecommunications Act’, this was legislation designed to ensure freedom of access to the media of the day, and also ensure an independent media.

The major referee in the game of communications is the all powerful FCC (Federal Communications Commission). These political appointees are charged with maintaining fairness and freedom of access to the various types of popular telecommunications methods, TV, Radio, Telephone, Cable, and more recently the Internet. This regulatory organization has been less than effective over the years favoring Big Media over the needs and wants of the consumer.

As a consumer I have to say that the rallying call I have heard over the years from these industries has been ‘de-regulate us, with deregulation we can offer more choices’. I am sure that many of you have heard something similar.

Digital Destiny reveals that de-regulation is not always the best solution. The communications world has become one that is controlled by a very small group of companies, and those companies may not have the consumers best interests in mind.

The book is particularly critical of the role that the FCC has played in allowing the large media companies to effectively control what the consumer has access to. The FCC has become just a spokesman for Big Media.

The de-regulation of most of the ownership rules now means that you may live in a market where the daily newspaper, the local TV station, the cable provider, and even your telephone provider, are all owned by the same company. If that is the case, there is a very good chance that this company also owns many other nationwide markets. This lack of competition results in a situation where there is little pressure to meet the local markets wants and needs.

Mr. Chester makes a convincing argument that this is not in the consumers best interest, and it is certainly not in the best interest of the local community. Your news is no longer locally produced, local issues are no longer important, fewer local jobs are involved in the production of the TV programming or newspaper content, with most of the work being done in some remote place, hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

In the single company environment there is no competition, as a result there is no requirement to appeal to the consumer, the consumer has no choice.

The later part of the book looks at the current state of play. The book paints a picture of us entering a very Orwellian phase. Broadband Internet and Digital Television may not be the panacea that we were led to believe.

Broadband supposedly brings a rich source of diverse media into our homes, but there are moves afoot by Big Media to remove the general diversity in favor of their own view of diversity. One of the major problems Jeff explains is that having the same company owning the media sources and the delivery mechanism (Internet) there is little to stop Big Media acting as a content gatekeeper. For example if you were to request information from outside of the controlling company your download speed could be reduced. This subject was hotly debated last year, under the loose title of ‘Network Neutrality’. Luckily for the consumer other more pressing issues pushed this to the sidelines and no legislation was enacted. You can be assured that this is a subject that will return soon.

Jeff Chester has created a fine book, and anyone who is concerned about the state of our communications, news, and information infrastructure will find this book a valuable source of information. 

Simon Barrett   

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