July 1, 2006
The State of High-Speed Internet and Convergence Culture

Recently, I was having a conversation with fellow C3 analyst Geoffrey Long about a prior post in which I indicated that indecency fines raising would stifle the creative industry and cause great damage to convergence culture. Playing devil's advocate, he pointed out that a heavily policed environment on broadcast could give networks a powerful new force to drive fans to try content from online platforms, with the full or uncensored versions available there and the sanitized version appearing on TV.

It was a point well taken, and I do agree that companies may be able to find ways to use this increase in government influence on television programming to their advantage. However, on the other hand, I fear that advocating or okaying a tightened censorship on broadcast television helps open the door further for intrusion into other spaces as well, including the Internet. Censorship is like a bad house guest or Chris Farley's Herlihy Boy...once you give it an a small place in your life, it begins to take over.

However, relating to this conversation, one of the comments in that prior post about the PTC and the indecency fines questioned what these old media companies had to do with convergence culture. I pointed out that the very idea of convergence deals with the collision of old and new media. If all we were talking about were the Internet, then it would be new media culture and not convergence. Television, magazines, newspapers, films...these platforms are far from dead and hold a central place in people's lives and entertainment consumption.

And, among us who study the media or work in the media industry, it's a common tendency to think that the tools essential to participate in the new media of convergence culture are commonly available to everyone. Sure, when I'm in Boston (where I'm visiting right now), I can pick up Internet signals at almost every corner. But, I'm staying in Kentucky this summer, and I feel like a druggie in need of a fix when I'm searching for a good Internet connection.

C3 adviser Grant McCracken, C3 analyst Ivan Askwith and I were all having a conversation while visiting New York City a few months back that wireless Internet for the nation might be available in five years, and that would really help to enable the convergence culture we talk about. But, there are plenty of places where people who have the disposable income to afford the Internet not only don't have great wireless options available but are even completely dependent on dial-up Internet service. My parents and my in-laws both have and use the Internet but cannot have high-speed at home. I'm forced to sneak outside the city building of the City of Beaver Dam, parked in the alleyway, to pick up a wireless connection, or else go into work after hours at the newspaper office where I'm working this summer.

These places aren't behind the times conceptually. There's income available. But rural areas just have not been a market that's been penetrated with high-speed service at this point. And, until the majority of the nation is wired (or wireless) and ready to go, convergence culture is going to remain primarily dependent on being pushed by old media forms and placing a priority on the types of technology that are universally accessible. Not being a proponent for elitist culture, I think we have to keep this social reality in mind when fantasizing about the current or near-future state of transmedia storytelling and online content.