Modeling Policy for New Public Media Networks
60 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2010 Last revised: 19 Oct 2013
Date Written: March 21, 2011
Dramatic transformations in communications networks and business models over the last decades have forged consensus that the American public broadcasting system requires equally significant change. Contractions in commercial journalism have prompted calls for more news production from noncommercial entities. Explosions in digital media content have led to demands that public broadcasting focus on new information scarcities, new partnerships, and new networks. The law is hindering this push for progress. The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 and associated policies tie the legacy public broadcasting system to an outmoded analog network architecture. If the old public broadcasting system is to evolve into 21st century digital networks of public media, the network structures will have to change, along with policies that assume and support a stale, 20th century network design.
The Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 National Broadband Plan supported reform of public broadcasting along the lines we are suggesting, drawing on our comments to the Agency. This Article provides a conceptual framework for the forthcoming debates on public media policy reform. It proposes a layered model of public media that maps onto the realities and capabilities of digital networks, and is rooted in computer network theory. By breaking down the core functions of public media into four distinct layers – infrastructure, creation, curation, and connection – we show how these functions should be distributed throughout newly configured public media networks. These functions should be carried out in a modular fashion by a wide range of noncommercial entities that interconnect with each other, either through intentional collaborations or through the use of common protocols. To implement this approach, we propose that federal legislation shift from a broadcast-centric to multi-platform orientation, and incent more robust interconnections among public media participants.
This kind of modular, networked structure would refocus public media on its original purposes and establish stronger, more sustainable networks for the 21st century. Ultimately, a more innovative web of public media networks, supported by appropriate law and policy, will be better able to respond to emerging information needs and market gaps.
Keywords: public media, communications, new media, social networks, telecommunications policy, Internet, broadband, public service media, public broadcasting, media policy
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