Broadcasting Policy Hits the Internet

  • Leonard Waverman
Part of the Topics in Regulatory Economics and Policy Series book series (TREP, volume 43)


Bits and bytes bypass national territorial control. Audio-visual broadcast material—television and radio—is intrinsically international. Yet, broadcasting is controlled nationally, and audio-visual policies are in many cases nationalistic. Governments license media outlets (radio and TV stations), restrict what kinds of content and advertisements can be broadcast over the airwaves, and often limit who can own media and the underlying delivery infrastructure. These policies are in many cases designed to meet broad, widely accepted social goals—for example, diversity, unbiased information, and education.1


Content Provider Digital Certificate Mandatory Label Public Goal Internet World 
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  1. The Global Communications Consortium at London Business School and The Global Internet Project supported the initial research for this paper. An earlier version was published online by The Internet Society.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    Policies such as overt censorship are not necessarily accepted across societies.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Later I discuss changes in the architecture of the Internet, such as digital certificates and labeling, which make distinguishing content easier.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    There are many other issues which need analysis in determining who is legally liable for the content on the Internet. In traditional broadcasting, the country of origin is liable, as the identity of the broadcaster is easy to determine.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    The Internet has substantial impacts for telephony. Voice-over-IP, for example, lowers costs and destroys the ability of telecom operators to price-discriminate between calls based on their distance or whether they are national or international.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Cable TV, however, always did face competition from over-the-air broadcasting.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    The Low Earth Orbit (LEO) systems of Iridium, Globalstar, and Teledesic are designed to provide telephony, but not necessarily to substitute for wired infrastructure in developed countries.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    See Broadband 2001 (New York: J.P. Morgan Equity Research, April 2, 2001) page 43.Google Scholar
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    For example, the FCC is considering imposing its traditional “must-carry” rules on DTV in the U.S. See>. See also http://>.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Report from the 1998 High Level Group on Audio-visual Policy chaired by Commissioner Marcelino Oreja, “The Digital Age: European Audiovisual Policy,”>.
  11. 10.
    47 U.S.C. § 309(k). This public interest requirement goes back to the Radio Act of 1927, 44 Stat. 1162, and was carried over by Congress in the Communications Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 1064.Google Scholar
  12. 11.>
  13. 12.
    Subsidizing the production of content or subsidizing public television can be labeled as “positive” policies.Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    Present in all OECD countries except Australia, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, and Turkey. See OECD 1999 Communications Outlook, Table 6.16.Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    See EU High Level Committee Part II.2. For example, television companies must devote 30 percent of their total investment budget to the production or purchase of European drama.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    Typical examples of definitions of “broadcasting” and “program” are given in the Canadian Broadcasting Act, 1991 (see Chapter B-9.01). According to the Canadian Act, “broadcasting” means any transmission of programs, whether or not encrypted, by radio waves or other means of telecommunication, for reception by the public by means of broadcasting receiving apparatus, but does not include any such transmission of programs that is made solely for performance or display in a public place. “Program” means sounds or visual images, or a combination of sounds and visual images, intended to inform, enlighten, or entertain, but does not include visual images, whether or not combined with sounds, that consist predominantly of alphanumeric text.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    See> for its vision of convergence and connectivity.
  18. 17.
    Interactivity is a rapidly growing phenomenon. In the Internet boom, many interactive players existed:,, com.Google Scholar
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    For example,,,, and other Internet radio sites permit the computer user to listen to stations around the world, is an operational Canadian site now shut down that provided television over the Internet (more below).
  20. 19.
    See Stephen Carwell, “Digital TV.” The Future of E-Commerce, E-Commerce Times, 20 March 2000,>.
  21. 20.
  22. 21.
    RealPlayer receives a constant stream of data (both audio and video) over the Internet from the servers of the site being accessed. Quality is dependent not only on the bandwidth to the computer but also congestion on the Internet itself. Dropouts occur when the information being sent is lost or delayed.Google Scholar
  23. 22.
    For example, Canadian content on radio is defined by points earned as to whether composer, performer, or producer are Canadian. This is simply impossible on the Internet. How does one know or test whether the author is Canadian—by his or her having a Canadian e-mail address?Google Scholar
  24. 23.
    New Internet technologies do allow streams to be labeled as to their application mode, but these labeling strategies may be circumvented, especially if differential pricing provides an incentive to mislabel content.Google Scholar
  25. 24.
    He calls this “tractability” regulation, see Lessig, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, 51.Google Scholar
  26. 25.
    Belgium does tax computers.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leonard Waverman
    • 1
  1. 1.London Business SchoolUK

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