I first used the term convergence in the world of media in 2001 when I was talking to a group about using video and audio in a web site. The thoughtful process of preparing the audio and video for distribution and packaging on a web site was still somewhat new and I considered this to be a convergence of technologies through one medium…the Web
Convergence denotes the approach toward a definite value or a common view. In mathematical equations the term convergence can refer to the limit of a series, and has plenty other meanings in physics, chemistry and environmental sciences. But that’s not all.
Convergence has been thrown around by large media and telecommunication companies for the past 18 months as some sort of new mantra that will save the people from frightening new technologies that lay ahead. It’s a good thing the large companies are looking out for us because surely, the average person couldn’t know what awaits through the doors of new technology. Wait a minute! Are we to believe that these companies (the same ones that constructed the massive public screwing that happened as a result of the 1996 telecommunications act resulting in excessive cable TV charges, the same ones that urged President Reagan to allow for telecommunications deregulation in the eighties, resulting in media consolidation and loss of essential quality public programming) are actually thinking about us? Let’s think about what convergence, or converged environments/networks, means in the world of information technology.
In this case we are talking about companies that were once in different markets, now suddenly using the pipes and technology of the Internet (or the galactic interweb as I like to call it) to supply their services. Phone companies created their networks in the early 20th century…large copper wires going from city to city and home to home. They were required by law (written in the twenties and thirties) to provide a connection to every home that was physically possible. Television broadcast networks, under similar laws, were required to provide access to home’s hands allow so many hours a week of public information programming. The cable companies created their initially analog network in the seventies and eighties. They were also required by law to “build out” their networks to every home but they did this on a city by city basis through franchise agreements. They have not been held to the same programming standards that broadcast stations were. Internet service providers built on telephone networks in the nineties, upgrading many large copper wires with fiber optic technology.
Why do I mention these three completely different types of companies and their networks? They are all converging now. Telephone companies, cable companies and ISPs are in the process of creating high-speed networks to deliver what is known as the quadruple play: fixed landline, mobile telephony, broadband Internet access and multi-channel television. Telephone operators, Internet service providers and cable TV companies have all suddenly found themselves in the same business. Cable companies now offer broadband Internet and voice services over networks that used to carry just television; telecommunications companies will offer television signals after they upgrade their networks and Internet service providers are now beginning to offer telephone and video over their network.
Convergence–any company that can deliver high-speed information to a customer can offer any and all of these services. Imagine getting all of the information and entertainment that you want from one company for one low-price. Sounds great doesn’t it? So what’s the problem?
It is difficult to say if there will be any problems. Convergence is a response to increasing competition in these converging industries. Companies will do whatever they can to get your business and hold onto it. Make no mistake. These large companies are not interested in you. They are interested in your business.
Companies may try to control which devices you can connect to the network and which services you can use once connected. After networks are established consumers may see prices increase drastically due to lack of competition in the market. If legislators do not keep up with the evolving technology we may see advanced networks available in only selected locations, such as wealthy neighborhoods. Consumers may also see an increase in marketing content (advertisements) through their televisions, computers and mobile devices.
The possibilities of Converging technology is truly appealing, but as consumers we must be conscious of the services that we are paying for to ensure that we are not just putting money into the pockets of large corporations for what we think is better or more convenient. We need to hold these companies and our government accountable for providing quality services and content at reasonable prices to everyone.