Policy makers during much of the 1990's liked to use the phrase "Information Superhighway", trying to make an analogy between transportation technology and communications technology. With all the recent talk about the future of Canadian television, I started thinking about analogies between transportation and our video distribution systems.
Walking could be compared to over the air terrestrial transmission, which can't reach very far and can be thought of as the beginning of our transportation and video distribution journey.
Riding animals was our next step for transportation, which in my mind is analogous to the creation of Cable, Satellite, and related "Broadcast Distribution Undertakings" (BDU). We had some choice over what animal to ride, and we could get a bit further, but we were still moving slowly.
Riding carts pulled by animals might be seen as the next step for transportation, analogous to BDUs going digital with BDU technology dependent set-top boxes. We may not be sitting directly on the animal any more, which gives some advantages, but we were still powered by the animals and all the limitations and costs that came with them.
One of the many steps for transportation which shared roads was the electric car, which might be analogous to the legitimate over-the-top (OTT) video distribution systems like Netflix and YouTube (I wrote elsewhere in this blog why I don't consider Shomi, CraveTV or FibeTV to be legitimate). Like the 1890s where there was an attempt to ban electric cars because they scared the horses, there is an attempt by the BDUs, the companies they own, and their allies, to ban or regulate/tax out of existence the legitimate OTT services.
While there was a ban on electric cars, transportation technology still advanced to the present where we have automobiles, trucks, buses and a variety of other vehicles, powered by a variety of means, all using common road infrastructure. While people still walk, and still ride horses, these are not considered viable options for longer distances except in very rare circumstances.
There are potentials with video distribution as well, with OTT technologies finally properly enabling the ability of neutral video distribution services to harness the much faster advancements in telecommunication technology. We can see a future where there is an open marketplace for creators and audiences to connect, if only we are all able to break free of all the arbitrary barriers put on these transactions by the legacy BDUs.
So - where do we go from here? While some bemoan the lack of the flying cars that science fiction promised we would have by the early 2000's, I think we have legitimate reason to complain far more loudly at how far back we seem to be in video distribution technology. Will we allow the modern day equivalents of horseshoe and whip makers, and others that feel tied to outmoded technologies, to delay the inevitable advancement in video distribution technology?
I hold it as a matter of pride that I am not a subscriber to a BDU, and that I am able to practice what I believe in this area of policy. Government manipulations of the marketplace to protect outmoded companies from free market competition denies such choice in other areas.