I suspect that people in the Obama administration who are charged with moving US information and communication policy into the 21st century are paying attention to “Transforming Global Information and Communication Markets: The Political Economy of Innovation,” by Peter F. Cowhey and Jonathan D. Aronson. I first became acquainted with Aronson when he was the visionary leader of the Annenberg Center for Communication, which, alas, lost its funding last summer. I can’t think of anybody else who could have put together the meetings I attended with John Seely Brown, Yochai Benkler, Lewis Hyde, Henry Jenkins, Joi AND Mimi Ito, Doug Thomas, Simon Wilkie and dozens of others. Aronson was just beginning to put together a powerfully interdisciplinary network of thinkers and doers when the Annenberg Center had to cease operations. Perhaps the Obama administration will exhibit more vision than the Annenberg funders. Although the relatively small population of technology geeks who also happen to be policy wonks pay attention to issues of innovation in communication markets, the wireless world and the World Wide Web are both results of intelligent decisions by governments in past eras that enabled markets to grow far beyond the narrow interests of individual players.
Innovation in information and communication technology (ICT) fuels the growth of the global economy. How ICT markets evolve depends on politics and policy, and since the 1950s periodic overhauls of ICT policy have transformed competition and innovation. For example, in the 1980s and the 1990s a revolution in communication policy (the introduction of sweeping competition) also transformed the information market. Today, the diffusion of Internet, wireless, and broadband technology, growing modularity in the design of technologies, distributed computing infrastructures, and rapidly changing business models signal another shift. This pathbreaking examination of ICT from a political economy perspective argues that continued rapid innovation and economic growth require new approaches in global governance that will reconcile diverse interests and enable competition to flourish.
The authors (two of whom were architects of international ICT policy reforms in the 1990s) discuss this crucial turning point in both theoretical and practical terms, analyzing changes in ICT markets, examining three case studies, and considering principles and norms for future global policies. Readers wishing to explore certain topics in greater depth will find an electronic version of the text, additional materials, and “virtual” appendixes online.