May 1, 2002
Sweeping changes in our nation’s communications infrastructure and markets over the past twenty years have radically changed the topography of the public sphere and democratic culture. But the mental maps which many people use to conceive “the public interest” in communications hark back to circa 1975, a time when the traditional broadcast model dominated and there were only three commercial television networks, cable TV consisted of “community antennae” to reach rural areas and even the VCR had not yet been unleashed. In the 1970s, the public interest in broadcasting was about the Fairness Doctrine, general content guidelines and public television subsidies.
Times have changed. Over the past generation, the Internet, the World Wide Web, cable television, wireless and many other electronic technologies have dramatically changed market stru c t u res and people’s use of communications media. By any absolute measure, the new technologies have yielded huge increases in the quantities of information and programming available to Americans. They have also given individual citizens a much greater ability to create and control content. The flows of information and entertainment, and people’s access to and control over it, are changing rapidly.
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