National Broadband Planning and Market Liberalism: Regulatory Reforms for Citizenship?

Tim Dwyer

Abstract


Planning for the systematic upgrading to ‘superfast’ broadband networks has emerged as a key communications infrastructure in many countries throughout the developed world. These governance processes combine centrally directed state measures with laissez-faire market or civil society organisation components. In some cases we are witnessing the kinds of arrangements typically encountered when governments pursue capital works initiatives in collaboration with privately controlled corporations. In this sense broadband networks can be another instance of ‘public-private’ infrastructure partnerships, just as governments have constructed joint arrangements for the ubiquitous supply of telecommunications, transport, electricity, gas and water. Yet media and communications systems are simultaneously cultural industry sites that often represent a profound culture-economy disconnect. In such systems, because they culturally distribute ‘public goods’ that work to shape peoples’ deliberation and participation in society, there is the tendency for conflict with the defining features of market liberalism (Keane, 1991). This dual life of media and communications systems, as both economic input to key infrastructure and foundational to political democracy is frequently highlighted (McChesney, 2008). And as is often argued, media and communications are not simply ‘just another business’ (Shultz, 1994) when it comes to the provision of media content such as news and information. How is nation-state planning for new broadband networks that works closely with commercial interests likely to articulate those regulatory reforms for content provision that arise as legacy systems subside and new convergent media systems flourish? Which structural priorities are embedded in the planning statements for the development of national broadband systems, and can we make any assessments of the likely policy consequences for content provision by forms such as IPTV? In particular, the paper highlights examples of those traditional laws and regulation governing content provision for citizenship building (including media diversity, local content, ‘must carry’) that will be placed under pressure in the mainstreaming of national broadband networks.

Keywords


National Broadband Policies, Market Liberalism, Citizenship, Content

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.15847/obsOBS512011424