Satellite Broadcasting as Trade Routes in the Sky

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The metaphor of trade routes - used from time to time to think about the distribution of ideas and imagery - ought to nourish our conception of transnational paths of delivery of electronic communications. Our minds are full of Rupert Murdoch and Disney, CNN and the BBC as traders in information, great shippers of data, distributors of sitcoms and news and advertisements. In the common reading of the world of electronic signals, the media is considered "global," and the general impression is of a constant and ever-present net that can deposit information everywhere, disregarding boundaries. Our common and most recent experiences with the Internet seem, at first blush, to confirm and underscore a belief that data careers around the world from server to server, in patterns that seem virtually impervious to purposive planning or political and legal intervention (Volokh, 1995). Sender and receiver are linked in ways that appear indifferent to the route or mode by which they are connected. The obsolescence of boundaries is reinforced. So, too, has been the effect of the seamlessness of telephony in the developed world, obliterating distance and time. In telephony, transmission pathways seem invisible, or at least irrelevant, to the substantive decisions of most users. Although users are almost never conscious of it, all these modes of communication (postal service, telegrams and telephones) required the construction of international systems of regulation. Assurance of adherence to worldwide standards was a condition for their instantaneous nature and compatibility. The predominance of the West in terms of development and control of access to technology dictated the change in structure of international communication, putting pressure on non-Western members to Westernize, in order to comply with the prevailing system's bureaucratic rules.

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