Let’s resolve analog anomalies before going fully digital…

At the last minute, I was invited to join a forum on Community use of digital spectrum at OUR Media 6 Conference here in Sydney.

I agreed because I have written and spoken for years about how we in developing Asia are blissfully ignorant about the gross misuse and abuse of our electro-magnetic spectrum by its custodians – our governments.

I was the odd one out on this panel, as all others were from Australia -– I don’t even live in a country that has set a timeframe for transition from analog to digital spectrum in broadcasting.

Only a few countries in Asia have as yet announced a timeframe for this -– Japan, Korea and Malaysia among them. Some have not even thought of this issue – they are dealing with more basic concerns in broadcast regulation and policy formulation. Yet I found this discussion instructive: sooner or later, all countries will have to go through this transition. It certainly helps to know the issues you are debating and grappling with.

Cartoon Stock

An extract from my remarks:

We should address fundamental reforms in broadcast policy, law and regulation before embarking on the high-cost, tedious and slow process of moving the entire production and distribution process to digital. We who haven’t derived and shared the full benefits of analog broadcasting must get our fundamentals right before going digital.

And therein lies the challenge for all of us who want to safeguard media freedom and promote the freedom of expression and cultural production. In my view, many activists in our region are not paying enough attention to how the electro-magnetic spectrum has been mismanaged and abused by various governments. Activist attention has been held by the more tangible, physical threats to media freedom: issues such as censorship, media ownership and political economy of the media.

All these are worthwhile and necessary — but not sufficient on their own.

During discussion, I also made the points:

The spectrum has been called the ‘invisible wealth of nations’. As economic and cultural practices move more and more into the digital realm, we’re going to increasingly feel the value of this common property resource. All our gains in the physical world would be undermined if we find the spectrum has been irretrievably allocated to a handful of privileged users ignoring the public interest. We need to wake up to this reality.

Perhaps it’s just as well we in developing Asia don’t have tight timeframes to switch from analog to digital spectrum use. We’ve got a good deal of cleaning up and streamlining to do in the analog realm.

This window will be open only for a few years. If we don’t act, we run the risk of making an equal mess in the digital spectrum, only far worse.

In terms of action, I suggest three simple yet important steps:

For us in the developing countries – or emerging economies – in Asia, I suggest three actions:
• Look forward to the transition from analog to digital spectrum
• Look sideways to see how we’re currently doing in the analog domain
• Look back to reflect on the mistakes we’ve made along the way (and learn)

Read the cleaned up text of my panel remarks plus responses

Wikipedia on Open Spectrum