Two simultaneous events are occurring here. First and foremost is the digital conversion of television information from its analog source and secondly its compression into one tenth the usual bandwidth necessary for transmission. It's kinda' like turning a two track road into a ten lane highway without widening it. Depending on your cable TV franchise, this could mean that you could crunch ten access channels onto each 6 Mhz of bandwidth available to your community. (That would be 70 channels in Grand Rapids) Yikes! What would we do with 70 public access channels? Well never fear there is a plan.
More important than compression though is the paradigm shift in information trafficking on its most fundamental level. Instead of information waves (analog) we'll now have on/off pulses of particles (digital). These pulses are virtually the same as the way computers move information, and the way audio information is being converted and the way lasers (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) send information in light bursts down fiber optic lines. We are talking convergence. Convergence of technology, convergence of signal type, convergence of hardware, software, chips, systems and markets. Some folks have been so bold as to suggest that Malone and Company have actually made an expensive mistake in investing in digital compression on co-axial cable instead of expanding the width of the highway with fiber deployment. Do you cram more shit into the same space (digital compression) or do you rebuild with fiber and expand the space available? Short term compression, long term fiber.
This convergence of media and transmission methods will change everything. With the recent court decision allowing the Regional Bell Operating Companies (R-BOC's or Baby Bells) into the information trafficking business you have seen them buy or join cable companies like crazy. The Baby Bells have traditionally been prohibited from providing any of the content on their conduit. They just ran the wires and as a monopoly were legislated out of content to protect against the obvious position of domination. Well the whips and chains have been issued and the legislators who unleashed the "Baby Bells" (the smallest of the Baby Bells has more annual gross revenue than the top 100 cable companies combined) in hopes of creating a competitor for cable TV have just witnessed billion dollar merger/buy out deals between most of the Baby Bells and cable's elite. If you can't beat'em . Enough politics and money what does all this have to do with regular folks?
With the discovery of light wave manipulation and communication, we humans have stumbled across the Pandora's Box of our own biological infrastructure. Without knowing it, we may have closed some evolutionary loop, forever altering our biochemical and physiological make-up. The evolutionary lineage of communication/life begins at the sun-fusing helium and hydrogen and spewing out radiation in the form of photons streaming through space/time. The photons deposit sun/energy through photosynthesis into digestible energy. Humans are evolving by consumption of sun/matter. We are evolving psycho-logically and physiologically due to that sun matter and our ability to "read" photons oscillating in the red to violet frequency range and the particles vibrating between 20 and 20,000 cycles per second. (sound).
We have deciphered the language of creation and we are about to babble amoungst ourselves at scary new speeds.
The traditional delineation between media, its methods, regulation and users in blending pixel by pixel into an alchemy of rainbow slush.
Digitally coded information all looks alike, whether it is ultimately destined to illuminate your TV or computer screen, vibrate your telephone receiver/stereo speaker or tickle grey matter into delirium tremors.
Voice, video and data are short-circuiting each other and streaming through unchartered waters to crash in gigabits and bytes onto new shores.
If information truly is the currency of Democracy then citizens need to understand technology and then plan proactively for social uses at fair rates.
How can commercial research and development dollars be managed without giving up the farm? How can the technology and knowledge be shared fairly to avoid creating new classes of technopeasants? Who will own the information highways? Who will determine the access fare? Who will decide what is acceptable speech or expression when borders are blurred by telecommunication? What will constitute community? Is virtual anything as good as the real thing? Will space have any relation with time? Can fiber optic cables shine light on fledgling plants? Can we manipulate telecommunications to feed folks? Let me know when you figure it out.