Information Superhighways Revisited: The Economics of Multimedia

Internet Research

ISSN: 1066-2243

Article publication date: 1 October 1998




Jordan, H. (1998), "Information Superhighways Revisited: The Economics of Multimedia", Internet Research, Vol. 8 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 1998, MCB UP Limited

Information Superhighways Revisited: The Economics of Multimedia

Information Superhighways Revisited: The Economics of Multimedia

Bruce L. EganArtech House685 Canton St., Norwood, MA 02062, USA. Tel: (617) 769-9758; Fax: (617) 769-6334.1996368 pp.ISBN: 0-89006-903-4$83.00,

Keywords Economics, Information society, Infrastructure, Multimedia, Telecommunications

When a book's title includs the words information superhighway and multimedia, many readers will assume that the book is about computers and the Internet, and that the focus is on technology. However, this is quite a narrow view, and, in the case of Information Superhighways Revisited: The Economics of Multimedia, very much mistaken.

To be sure, Chapter two (Multimedia technology trends) is indeed concerned with technological matters, such as the Internet, CD-ROMs and the convergence of computer and television. However, the majority of the book deals less with computers than with telecommunications, and the focus, rather than being technological, is economic.

Chapter two looks at "broadband living rooms", and "inhome wiring". Chapters three to five consider the telecommunications infrastructure needed to deliver broadband multimedia to the home. Chapter three examines "wireline" alternatives: various combinations of copper, coaxial and fibreoptic cables, the costs of setting up different infrastructures, and the roles that telephone and cable television companies could play. Chapter four effectively performs a similar task with "wireless" alternatives, and Chapter five compares the two. Egan makes no real attempt to predict which of these possibilities will come to pass. His aim is to explore and explain the many different alternatives.

Chapter six (The economics of broadband networks) examines broader economic issues in the telecommunications industry, such as government regulation, cost structures and cross-subsidisation. Chapter seven deals with the concept of "universal service" contained in the American Telecommunications Act (1996), and Chapter eight with the rural telecommunications infrastructure in the USA. In the final chapter, the author brings it all together and makes a number of recommendations (but not predictions!) as to the direction in which government policy should move. Finally, the "winners and losers" of the Telecommunications Act (1996) are identified.

As can be seen, a very broad spectrum of topics is covered, not all of which will be interesting or relevant to every reader. For this reason, Egan has written the chapters as "self-contained modules", which he suggests can be read out of order if the reader desires. Certainly, the content of each chapter is largely self-contained, but reading them out of order could lead to some confusion. A great many acronyms are used in this book, and while Egan carefully explains each one the first time he uses it, he does not necessarily re-explain, if an acronym occurs again in a later chapter.

For an Australian reader, there is one very serious problem with this book ­ everything is from an American perspective. While it is very probable that many of the points Egan raises would apply equally to Australia, it can be very difficult to determine the exact extent. Costs, for example, play a significant role in a number of his discussions ­ for example, in Chapters three to five, when he is considering different wireline and wireless alternatives ­ but the reader must estimate for him/herself what the equivalent costs in Australia would be. Similarly, much of the book focuses on possible future directions for the telecommunications infrastructure. Without an understanding of the infrastructure in Australia, it is very difficult to determine whether, or to what extent, these possibilities apply here. A reader who lacks the necessary local knowledge to extrapolate to the Australian situation would find large portions of the book of little practical value.

As mentioned above, the book covers a broad range of topics, which will vary in interest and relevance for different readers. At a general level, however, Egan makes the reader very aware that economic and social issues are just as important as advances in technology when one is considering how the "information superhighway" will affect our lives in the future.

Harriet JordanMulitmedia Designer

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