The Internet was created to be a synchronous medium, just like Sturken and Cartwright point out. What that means in practice, is that whoever can receive also can transmit, unlike for example television. In effect – anybody with an Internet connection can become a reporter and publish news and articles without the hassle of printing and distributing atoms, or investing hugely in the infrastructure needed to broadcast television.

What’s in a Name
In Sweden, which will serve as my example here, the market for Internet broadband is moving away from empowering the users with the possibility to broadcast. There are two primary ways of getting broadband access today; first, through optical fiber which is a quite expensive solution since quite extensive modifications to the infrastructure is needed, both the building and the apartments; secondly, broadband access can be provided through the ordinary phone lines. The latter is by far the more common method, and most often utilize ADSL-technology to achieve its goal.

The design flaw, and the inconsistency to Sturken’s a Cartwright’s ideal, is actually right there in the name: ADSL is an acronym for Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line. What this mean is that the rate of which users can receive data is much higher than the rate they can send at. The ratio between the two can be as high as 30/1 (28 mbps downstream and 0,8 mbps upstream). However, there are alternative technologies (such as VDSL) that enable true synchronous transfers, but none of the Swedish Internet provides are offering such a service to the market, and those who did are gradually replacing the technology. This is, the providers’ claim, because that too few customers requested the feature.

Without being overly conspiratory, I would like to raise the question whether is possible that there is indeed a strategy behind these choices of technology. The phone companies have since a few years stopped being just providers of an information service, to actually wanting to provide and sell content for the networks. Is it really in their best interest as content merchants, to enable others to easily distribute content on the net?

The Swedish market does not (yet) show the same degree of synergetic mergers of companies as in the US, so lets consider the American example for a while (2001:317). Road Runner, one of the world’s biggest broadband providers is owned by the Time Warner Inc., who in turn own dozens of newspaper, radio stations and movie studios.

In the rapidly changing landscape of digitalization, and as more and more services anticipated to be provided through the broadband connection; fixed line telephony, radio, television, pay-per-view movies and music to name but a few, the apparent risk is that the consumers will, one again, be turn in to passive receivers of information without possibility of a feedback-channel. The effects of increased democratization would evaporate in thin air.

» Sturken M. & Cartwright L. (2001) Practices of Looking – An Introduction to Visual Cultures, Oxford: Oxford University Press