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July 29, 2006

Benkler Responds to Carr

In response to Carr's original post on Benkler's new book, questioning the premise that

the arrival of large-scale systems of "social production" that "are decentralized but do not rely on either the price system or a managerial structure for coordination."

Benkler himself has posted a very thorough comment in response to the critique. He eloquently addresses Calacanis' recent move to start paying the top contributors/social-bookmarkers on Netscape and also analyzes the same point that I disagreed with in Carr's post concerning the  development of the public radio infrastructure (or how radio rapidly became the fiefdom of commercial interests).

Most of us know the current, sorry state of commercial radio and we've responded by finding music via other channels ( internet radio, blogs, mp3 blog aggregators, Last.fm or Pandora, podcasts or the Podshow.com network, Rhapsody, satellite radio, etc.). Most of us are fed up with the traditional radio infrastructure for all the reasons that Benkler outlines, that the public radio spectrum was quickly hijacked from amateurs and consolidated by commercial interests.

From my final paper "Radio’s Spectrum Scarcity and the Implications on Media Freedoms Afforded to Radio Communications" for a Communications Law & Ethics class:

Early radio included a wide range of noncommercial content and commercial radio was just a tiny fraction of the whole pie (Lessig 2002, 74); “By the mid-1930s, NBC and CBS would be responsible for an astounding 97% of night-time broadcasting” (Ibid., 74). This evolution, from local and decentralized press to centralized and national press, has influenced how the law protects the media. This decentralized architecture, as Lessig points out (1998, 2001), implies that the early days of radio are very similar to the model of the internet.

\Did those commercial interests help innovate and push radio to a larger and larger audience (a boon for those previously unconnected to the outside world)? Yes, of course they did but the question is about trade-offs (opportunity costs) of the early legal decision and subsequent FCC framework for radio and other communication medium. What could radio have been or what would it like now if commercial broadcasters didn't have such a stranglehold on the medium? The more pessimistic question is that if radio was once decentralized and free (free speech not free beer), much like the current internet, and yet became the bumbling giant of the present, what does this say about the future of the internet?

That's why it's so nice to see experts in the area of technology, law, and culture (Lessig and Benkler) describe the early history of radio and how unorganically commercial radio now serves content of the lowest common denominator, not what audiences really want. From Benkler's comment to Carr:

" To say that this process represents an instance in which “that nonprofessional network was soon displaced by a smaller set of commercial radio stations that were better able to fulfill the desires of the listening public” is, shall we say, not the only way to characterize that story. "

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