This morning the UK government published the Postal Services Bill, which details how the regulatory authority for the postal sector has been transferred to Ofcom. The joint statement from the two agencies blandly notes that the two regulators are working together to ensure continuity in their regulatory activities.
But how, exactly? As governments around the world have noticed by separating postes and telecoms (although some anachronisms remain) communications systems have not been similar to postal systems for over a century (let’s say, since the telegraph). Converged media in the Internet age is no Royal Mail.
Given that the government MUST know this, I can only conclude that saddling Ofcom with an unrelated set of regulatory duties is a preliminary action in advance of winding down the entire regulator. And then what? The government may want perfect deregulation, but radio spectrum allocation, network neutrality and citizen’s rights to communicate (not to mention broadcast content !) will not manage themselves.
UPDATE! It appears that one of the functions that will be changed is the review by Ofcom of Channel 3 TV licenses – so effectively removing the public service broadcast requirement and allowing the Minister of Culture much more direct control over new TV licenses. Though I’m no broadcast TV expert, this deregulation agenda seems quite similar to that of the USA in the 1990s . . . which led to more media consolidation, rather than a diversity of voices.
I took my sweetie to London’s best holiday nerdfest last night – Robin Ince’s 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People. It was a three-hour celebration of the wonders and beauties that science can reveal – along with lots of hilarious British standup comedy. Throughout, there was lots of emphasis on the role of evolution in creating fantastically complex organisms – and societies. But there was something bittersweet, to me, about celebrating how much our society has evolved, especially in the wake of the disastrous lack of results from Copenhagen.
Yes, our society has evolved and created astonishing innovations like the computer I’m using to write this, and the network that ensures all of you can read it. The internal combustion engine, in particular, has facilitated extraordinary developments in transportation, commerce, health and well-being.
But such development comes with consequences, as we now know. Our evolved intelligence has got us into this mess, and now must get us out of it. Unfortunately, much of society is now in thrall to a particularly well-evolved form of self-interested greed. The policy debates about how to respond to climate change illustrate this well: everyone agrees that something must be done, the conclusive data is building up, but there is hesitation. Why? In many cases, because agreeing to collectively solve a problem interferes with the pursuit of individual gains – a pursuit so well supported by today’s capitalism.
Luckily, we have also evolved an ethics of collective action. Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel prize winning work explains that societies have also evolved innovative ways of sharing resources to avoid the “tragedy of the commons.” As the pressure to define ourselves as self-interested consumers mounts in this holiday shopping week, it’s important to remember what else our society has evolved: ethics, compassion, and a sense of the collective good.
Happy holidays – I’m off to slow down and enjoy the snow.
I was delighted to read that the Personal Democracy Forum’s 2009 Conference (twitter slurp here) includes a Birds of a Feather meetup on the topic of “Hacking the City.” I first heard community technologists use this phrase in 2005, when Mike wrote a post about how community Wi-Fi is a way of hacking the social space of cities. What he was referring to was the way that community interventions in provision of communications infrastructure could change how people socialized – since so much of our interactions are mediated by various types of networks.
But “hacking the city” like so many good ideas, has taken on another life. It’s now used to describe how networked technologies can be harnessed so that citizens can take action in their own cities. There’s DIYCity.org, where volunteers in cities around the world build open source tools and advocate for open data , New York City’s The Open Planning Project (who advocate for open source software in government, and run several citizen-participation blogs) and MySociety’s FixMyStreet, which features maps where my neighours have flagged two instances of fly-tipping and two piles of dog poo within 1 km of my house.
After doing some work this year about other types of digital activism, I’m returning this summer to thinking about the politics of local networks – it’s time, and furthermore it matters! Can anyone think of other good examples of hacking the city?
UPDATE: Exciting! Personal Democracy Forum Europe in Barcelona in November.