Globalization and Telecommunication Technologies

Globalization and Telecommunication Technologies
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  Globalization and Telecommunication Technologies Jasni Mohamad Zain  Department of Information Systems and Computing, Brunel University, Uxbridge UB8 3PH  E-mail :   Abstract Rapid deregulation policy and the development of computer technology, includingdevelopments in broadcasting communications, formed a powerful tool in the globalizationprocess. This has resulted in the domination of world markets by trans-national corporationsthat face very little competition due to their overwhelming market force. Now multinationalsbased in the industrialize world have access to all parts of the world. This paper will look atglobal telecommunications, namely satellite/cable TV, the Internet and mobile phones. Thesetechnologies can be seen as tools for globalization process. I will then describe the threetelecommunications technologies in turn and discuss some effects of globalization to society. Keywords: Globalization, telecommunication Introduction In the rapidly changing world of technology, it is difficult to keep pace of developments. As oneform of communication is overtaken by another, the inherent possibilities of more varied forms,and patterns of communications become more complex. It is only since the early 1980s thatcomputers have become so commonplace and have become transformed from the bulky andcarefully closeted ‘mainframes’ to the stand alone, personal pieces of equipment populatingmany desks. When one adds to this the ways in which computers can now be connected to eachother via electronic mail networks (e-mail) or facsimile modems, the potential for faster andmore efficient forms of communication is obvious.The convergence of computer and telecommunications facilities is thus of relatively recent, andit signifies the transition from the more traditional and commonplace forms of communicationvia the wire-telephone network to a sophisticated system of communication which linkstogether three essential features, namely computers, telephone systems (including mobile) andsatellites. A document produced in one place can be printed in another. The most obviousexample of this is the London Financial Times, which is written and edited in London butprinted in a number of different European locations. Other examples would include the Arabnewspapers currently being published in London. It is clear that the relations between workingand living, within the workplace, in cultural forms, are indeed changing rapidly in response toinformational technologies (Harvey 2000).This essay will look at global telecommunications, namely satellite/cable TV, the Internet andmobile phones. These technologies can be seen as tools for globalization process. I will thendescribe the three telecommunications technologies in turn and discuss some effects of globalization to society. Let us first look at globalization in the context of telecommunicationsbefore going further. What is globalization? Globalization can be grasped in terms of the world capitalist economy, the nation-state system,the world military order and the world global information system (Giddens 1990). The global  does not represent the universal human interest; it represents a particular local and narrow-minded interest that has been globalizes through the scope of its reach (Shiva 1993).In communications, scholars refer globalization to the way in which, under contemporaryconditions especially, relations of power and communications are stretched across the globe,involving compressions of time and space and a recomposition of social relationships(Mohammadi 1997). Telecommunication as a tool for globalization process Rapid deregulation policy and the development of computer technology, includingdevelopments in broadcasting communications, formed a powerful tool in the globalizationprocess. This has resulted in the domination of world markets by trans-national corporationsthat face very little competition due to their overwhelming market force. Now multinationalsbased in the industrialized world have access to all parts of the world. It is estimated that thebasic telecommunications equipment market of the South is at least $90 billion. The developingcountries, with 71% of global population, possess only 17% of global GNP and a mere 7% of the existing stock of telecommunications resources, which are crucial for access to computer-based global markets and banking (Mohammadi 1997).Major changes in world trade and the increased accessibility to markets in the Third World werethe outcome of the movement towards deregulation. Between 1980 (the starting point of deregulation) and 1992, the US market share in film and video in the EC alone increased from42% to 75% (Screen Digest, 1992). Such consequences of the deregulation process not onlybenefit the US government and businesses, but are also in the interests of the G7 group of nations as a whole. It reduced the ability of government to interfere in private investment. It alsoserved as a persuasive means of encouraging local firms to take advantage of expanding marketsand become global corporations. The new trans-national corporations have ‘devised globalizestrategies’ in order to have control over the world market (Martin 1993).International institutions, such as the IMF and the World Bank, changed the entire policy of lending to the developing world. This resulted in a reduction of aid. The provision of aid wasconditional on developing nations relinquishing economic sovereignty and adopting policiesprescribed by the IMF and the World Bank. This actually meant a war being waged against the poor. Debt is enabling the rich to obtain from the poor what theymight formerly have gained through the war. Since 1982, the world’s poor have paid the richsome $450 billion over and above what they have received in aid, loans, etc. (Martin 1993: 34). With present rapid growth of communication sectors in the Western world, globalization isproceeding at an unprecedented speed. By examining the history of communications technologysince the first commercial satellite was launched into space about forty years ago, we can seethat international trade in terms of imports and exports has increased from $293 billion to $7409billion in 1988 (IMF 1988). The summer Olympic games were watched by 3.5 billion peoplearound the world during 1992 and about 2 billion tuned into the World Cup in 1994. Satellites and cable New technologies present new possibilities as well as new threats. Satellite communications cansupposedly ‘shrink’ distances because of their ability to cover large expanses of the Earth’ssurface. The exploitation of the geo-stationary orbit, in which the satellite orbits above the earthat 12,000 miles and so has appearance of remaining stationary, therefore offering continuouscommunications facilities, opened up the prospect of ‘nations being able to speak unto nations’.  As well as of an instant inexpensive way for a centre to reach a population spread thinly across alarge land mass.The use of satellites for television traffic is perhaps the most obvious feature of the revolution incommunications in recent years. This traffic is carried on the 147 or so active satellites (Wilson1990) and this is partly reflected in the explosion in the numbers of television services deliveredby satellite, particularly across Europe. Not surprising, many of these services use importedmaterial, usually but not always from the United States. The Perceived Threats  The potential impacts of current trends, especially given the absence of significant publicinfluence upon them, are enormous, with ramifications spreading into the ordinary lives of people everywhere. Fears can be summarised as follows:A threat to Media Diversity in Form and Content: • ‘Dumping-down’ of news and educational programming forms, with ‘infotainment’ and‘edutainment’ • Reduction of real content diversity, displaced by multiplication of homogenisedprogramming A threat to Public Understanding and the Democratic Process: • Undue influence of commercial imperatives on news, current affairs and educationalcontent • ‘Media Moguls’ controlling the political slant of their publications, and directly biasingthe information available • Growing global electronic surveillance, by government and private interests A threat to Global Equity of Access and Economic Development: • Growing disparity of access to information and communication technologies andapplications globally, between urban and rural, and between groups in society • A proliferation of advertising globally, perpetually delivering distorted messages of lifestyle expectations • The imposition of a single dominant set of cultural values, promoting values thatimplicitly and explicitly advocate commercial over human relationships A threat to Cultural and Social Forms: • The subjection of sport and all forms of entertainment to purely commercially drivencriteria • Domination of a single language in the new media content, and consequent loss of linguistic diversity • Ubiquity of advertising, interrupting and deforming other social and culturalinformation, visually and aurally  A considerable body of academic research, and the real experience of numerous NGOs, confirmthat these threats are real, and merit the urgent attention of international organisations,governments, and by organisations everywhere that claim concern for our future (Voices 21 20 th  May 2003). The Internet The Internet, and the computer-based machines connected to it, will form society’s newplayground, new workplace, and new classroom. It will replace physical tender. It will subsumemost existing forms of communication. It will be our photo album, our diary, and our boombox. This versatility will be the strength of the network, but it will also mean we will becomereliant on it.Reliance can be dangerous. During the New York City blackouts in 1965,1977 and 2003millions of people were in trouble, at least for a few hours, because of the dependence onelectricity. They counted on electric power for light, heat, transport and security. Whenelectricity failed, people were trapped in lifts; traffic lights stopped working, and electric waterpumps quit. Anything really useful is missed when you lose it.A complete failure of the information highway is worth worrying about. Because the systemwill be thoroughly decentralised, any single outage is unlikely to have a widespread effect. If anindividual server fails, it will be replaced and its data restored. But the system could besusceptible to assault. As the system becomes more important, we will have to design in moreredundancy. One area of vulnerability is the system’s reliance on cryptography, themathematical locks that keep information safe.None of the protection systems that exist today, whether steering wheel locks or steel vaults, arecompletely fail-safe. The best we can do is to make it as difficult as possible for somebody tobreak in. The U.S. government has been tough on export control for cryptography. What thismeans is that they will only allow for export only cryptography that they have already broken!Federal officials have subjected Philip R. Zimmermann, author of the popular freecryptographic program PGP, to harassment since his release of the program. He was informedin 1993 that a Grand Jury in San Jose, California, was investigating charges that Mr.Zimmermann had somehow been involved in exporting the PGP program. On November 9,1994, upon his return to the United States from Europe, he was detained in Customs before hecould re-enter the country, his luggage was searched, and he was interrogated for half an hourabout his itinerary, public speaking activities, prior trips overseas, and possible PGP exports --all without the benefit of counsel. He was eventually re-admitted to the United States (where hehas a Constitutional right to enter), though the Customs Service promised to subject him to thesame hassle upon every re-entry into the United States. On November 23, his lawyerscomplained to the Customs Service about the incident.The whole investigation was dropped after three years with a short, useless press release inJanuary 1996. The case is now closed and Phil need not fear further prosecution (Gnu Sept.2000).Loss of privacy is another major concern about the Internet. A great deal of information isalready being gathered about each of us, by private companies as well as by governmentagencies, and we often have no idea how it is used or whether it is accurate. The anti-privacyRegulation of Investigative Powers (RIP) Act 2000 in the United Kingdom legalised state  interception and reading of private email and the monitoring of an individual's activity online.Not long afterwards, similar measures were passed in New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Malaysia,Russia and Singapore. (APC 20 th May 2003) Internet Governance While at a general level no one owns or controls the Internet, there are important central pointsof control and coordinating bodies that influence the way the Internet works. As the Internet hasdeveloped, the significance of these relatively informal agencies has increased, along with callsfor their formalization.Universal connectivity is perhaps the single greatest benefit of the Internet. The unimaginedgrowth of the Internet and the equally unimagined commercial value of certain Internet domainnames are forcing Internet participants to consider how to expand the domain names space toaccommodate new users.In the summer of 1998, the U.S Department of Commerce called for the creation of a private,non-profit, ‘international’ corporation to operate the DNS and make policy for the developmentof the Internet going forward. That entity known as the Internet Corporation for AssignedNames and Numbers (ICANN) is currently in the start-up phase and is proposed to graduallytake over responsibility for the Internet’s coordinating functions from U.S. governmentcontractors.ICANN’s responsibilities are:1) establishment of policy for and direction of the allocation of number blocks in the IPaddress space;2) oversight of the operation of the authoritative root server system;3) oversight of functions and policy related to the coordination of the Internet DomainName System, including policies for determining the circumstances under which newtop-level domains could be added to the root system; and,4) coordination of the assignment of Internet technical parameters as needed to maintainuniversal connectivity on the Internet.The second area of ICANN’s ‘jurisdiction’, oversight of the authoritative root server system, isnothing less than the power to determine whether one exists or not on the Internet. The ‘root’ isessentially the list of Internet domains such as ‘.com’, ‘.uk’, and ‘.my’. Control over theauthoritative list of domains is an unprecedented ‘gatekeeper’ power over globalcommunication and electronic commerce (Clement 2000).The governance role of ICANN and other private Internet bodies will require a careful balanceof the interests of all interested parties. This type of activity is of course precisely whatgovernments do. However, ICANN has been designed by the U.S. Department of Commerce tobe ‘free’ of ‘government interference’ and to serve as private sector self-governance. With thecommercial pressures to which the Internet is now subject, the desire of some parties to see itsinfrastructure change to their benefit may present challenges to the goal of interconnectivity forits own sake. It is worth noting that to date, the largest financial supporters of ICANN have beenIBM and Netscape (now owned by America Online).
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