Of Free Markets, Regulation, and Tipping Points


A very interesting Day 2! Some highlights:

First Amendment issues and the specific domain of government regulation over free speech are narrowly confined to content creators over the licensed spectrum. For example, had the famous Janet Jackson Super Bowl breast exposure incident occurred on cable TV as opposed to broadcast TV, there would have been no regulatory issue over indecent exposure and hence no grounds for the FCC to get involved.

In short, you can be the willing consumer (or the inadvertent and unwilling spectator) of the most indecent behavior embedded in content on cable TV anytime and cannot object to it on grounds of Public Standards of decency because you have paid for the basic cable TV transport infrastructure. If the content is broadcast over the government licensed spectrum, then it’s a totally different story, as you have entered the domain of the Public Trust.

Today, 95% of US homes are passed by cable and increasingly ubiquitous access to the Internet brings streaming media of just about anything you can think of all the time. Most people get their content from new forms of media that are unsupervised and unaccountable to anyone other than The Market. Many people may feel this is not a problem at all– on the contrary, they may see it as a blessing.

Licensed spectrum broadcast content is now dwarfed by other media transports. In short, the domain of the Public Trust, and thus standards of socially and morally acceptable program, are hurtling toward irrelevancy in our new digital world.

My problem with this is that a few clicks away for ANYONE, especially children, you will find abominable violence, graphic examples of human enslavement for sexual exploitation, and hard core porn. The evidentiary record is increasingly showing that exposure to these types of negative human behaviors has a bad influence on children and absolutely impacts their social development.

The consequences of these trends are not well understood, but, in my view, these tectonic shifts in the landscape of content distribution will reach a tipping point that will trigger new regulation. Can the market self-regulate? Perhaps, but at what cost in the process? While America was built on freedom of speech, the proliferation of freedoms in the Digital Age may substantially fray the fabric of our society before we reach a new equilibrium.

Whether or not we think this is a good thing, we are already in the soup.

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