Compaine, B. M. & Greenstein S. eds. Communication policy in transition: the Internet and beyond. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001. 425 p. ISBN 0-262-03292-9. £30.95
The book edited by B. M. Compaine and S. Greenstein is a selection of papers presented at the Annual Research Conference on Information, Communication and Internet Policy (previously Telecommunications Policy research Conference in the USA). Fifteen papers are presented by communication policy, mass communication researchers, and computer scientists. The articles cover the issues of regulatory policy, competition and economics in telecommunication market, legal, technological and access to information.
As reflected in the article the majority of the authors deal with various factors of policy. So, Cannon (p.3-34) presents a guide to Computer Inquiries rules of the Federal Commission for Communication in the USA from the point of view of ensuring fair market for Internet providers. O'Donnel (p. 35-57) looks into the USA regulation of broadband access carriers, and the role of the FCC in preventing concentration in the market and encouraging open access ready technologies. He proves that open access is technically feasible and economically viable from the point of view of broadband architectures. Mindel and Sirbu (p. 59-87) search for coherence in US policy for packet-oriented data communication services, which should make a difference between information providers and telecommunication service. However, they raise the question of the correct degree of regulation in times of rapid technological change.
Some papers are directed towards the analysis of policy issues affecting the development of communications infrastructures. Strover and Berquist (p. 221-240) investigate the impact of the USA Telecom Act (1996) provisions, which ensure a substantial role for the states in preserving the longstanding aims of universal service. The study looks into the conditions and outcomes of the state and local investments in telecommunication policy. They present a review of current literature and analysis of existing statistical data on development of public networks and commercial provision of the same services. Rosston and Wimmer (p. 241-261) continue the discussion in a study of the competitive implications of the Telecom Act and how different policies in states affect development of competition. Murase (p. 196-217) proves that wire line telecommunication policies, technological advantage and wireless market structures are key factors that account for the differences in the Internet infrastructures of the USA and Japan (personal computers vs. cellular phones access).
Almost half of the papers examine commercialisation of the Internet. Blumenthal and Clark (p. 91-139) follow the discussion of the classical end-to-end applications and the simplicity of core network in the Internet versus the new demands of expanding audience, content complexity, need of security and control. They see the loss of trust as a fundamental transforming factor and argue that "the outcome is not fixed by specific technical alternatives, but by the interplay of the many attributes and features of this very complex system" [p. 129]. Gandal (p. 351-367) examines the evolution and competition in the Internet search engine market, starting with Yahoo and Lycos in 1994. The first-mover advantage of early entrants has declined. The barriers for competition are relatively low and competition fierce. The consumers are primarily interested in search engines that provide relevant hits and eliminate dead links.
Greenstain (p. 369-395) approaches the complexity of the copyright on computer applications and the difficulties of finding balance between the protection from the infringement and public interest. Interests of copyright holders and creation of markets for their application hang on the same technology.
I was most interested in the study of Sandvig (p. 265-320) looking into how children use public computers and Internet access. The authors carried out an empirical investigation in the San Fransisco, Library's programme Electronic Discovery Center through computer recording of the activity in the gateway. The findings that children play rather than engage in "productive activity", pay no attention to privacy warnings and are not interested in using pornography sites are backed by substantial data. Computer sharing between strangers is a frequently met interaction, which is possible only with public access centres in libraries. That is a promising avenue for learning about technology and content. These findings suggest that the politicians should improve policy making on realistic grounds of knowledge about human nature and behaviour. The access issues are also discussed in the work by Gabel and Kwan (p. 295-320) and Compaine (p. 321-348). The first article provides data about the accessibility to broadband by various segments of American population. The second one discusses the concept and issues of digital divide in the USA. The data on adoption of technology raises the questions: how important is access to e-mail and Internet, and what is the role of access to information among other needs of human life?
The book would be interesting for those who study telecommunication policy in the USA as it is focused on the American policies, issues, and problems.
Dr. Elena Macevičiūtė