Tim Wu, a policy advocate and professor at Columbia Law School, discusses yesterday's FCC compromise vote on net neutrality. His recent book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires examines how new media revolutions are always proceeded by centralized corporate control over the new mediums.
Tim Wu discusses the history of the information industry in America, and looks at whether the Internet will be taken over and privatized as radio and television has before it. In The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information, he tells stories of the power over information, and wonders if the Internet—and the entire flow of American information—will come to be ruled by one corporate leviathan.
It's a debate that's been around for as long as the Internet has been around: How do we keep the information superhighway open and beneficial for the public in a world that seems increasingly driven by corporations? The question has inspired plenty of debate about modern treatment of older principals, but author Tim Wu insists this debate isn’t new. He says it’s been around as long as communication structures have existed — from the telephone and radio to television.
Exactly forty years before Bell's National Geographic banquet, Alexander Bell was in his laboratory in the attic of a machine shop in Boston, trying once more to coax a voice out of a wire. His efforts had proved mostly futile, and the Bell Company was little more than a typically hopeless start-up.
Bell was a professor and an amateur inventor, with little taste for business: his expertise and his day job was teaching the deaf. His main investor and the president of the Bell Company was Gardiner Green Hubbard, a patent attorney and prominent critic of the telegraph monopoly Western Union. It is Hubbard who was responsible for Bell's most valuable asset: its telephone patent, filed even before Bell had a working prototype. Besides Hubbard, the company had one employee, Bell's assistant, Thomas Watson. That was it.
If the banquet revealed Bell on the cusp of monopoly, here is the opposite extreme from which it began: a stirring image of Bell and Watson toiling in their small attic laboratory. It is here that the Cycle begins: in a lonely room where one or two men are trying to solve a concrete problem. So many revolutionary innovations start small, with outsiders, amateurs, and idealists in attics or garages. This motif of Bell and Watson alone will reappear throughout this account, at the origins of radio, television, the personal computer, cable, and companies like Google and Apple. The importance of these moments makes it critical to understand the stories of lone inventors.
Earlier this week, President Obama’s chairman of the Federal Communications Commission may have picked his first big fight. And it wasn’t over a Janet Jackson-eque nipple-slip or a fleeting expletive: It was over your cell phone. We talk with Tim Wu, professor of law at Columbia University and co-author of the book "Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World." We also speak to freelance tech journalist Eric Krangel.
Now that the FCC may change how cell phone providers offer service, we're looking for your cell phone horror stories. When have you been frustrated with your phone plan? Leave a comment or call 1-877-8-MY-TAKE.