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Who will run the Internet and how?,
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This review is from: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Borzoi Books) (Hardcover)
If you believe that understanding the past is a valuable guide to the future and if you are interested in the future of the media then this book is a "must read." The author, Tim Wu, is a professor at Columbia University and a veteran of Silicon Valley. He looks back at the history of the telephone, radio and television industries in the USA with a lawyer's eye and analyses the way that private enterprise has built powerful monopolies, at times with the assistance of a government, which, in theory at least, was keen to break up such structures.
Wu is the inventor of the term "net neutrality" and the analysis he uses the past to illustrate the possible challenges to the open nature of the Internet in the future. He poses the question is his title "Who will control the Master Switch of the Internet." He explains his notion of "the Cycle" in which information industries begin as the obsession of a lone inventor, are taken up by keen hobbyists and start out as open to all before becoming consolidated. He takes his analogy through telephone, cinema and radio.
He then argues that media end up being controlled by empire builders and closed to innovation. He paints fascinating pictures of the people behind the structures. Theodore Vail who created AT&T, David Sarnoff who built RCA and Adolph Zukor Paramount pictures. But just as interesting are the poignant stories of the inventors and would-be entrepreneurs who were pushed aside. We meet the pioneers of the failed mechanical television, the farmers who started local telephone and cable TV operations, the frustrated inventor of FM radio and more.
It is a very American book - Rupert Murdoch and New Corp get just a few lines and the BBC enjoys only a couple of brief walk-on parts. However but this might make it all the most interesting to a British reader as the featured corporations and characters are less familiar so there is a greater sense of learning something new.
If you want to participant in the debate about the future of the internet with informed credibility this is the book for you. It is not easy reading but worth the effort - thought provoking, educational and entertaining. What more could you ask of a book?
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