Prior to Vietnam, we had no means of knowing almost instantaneously what was happening on far-away battlefields. The only updates were newspaper reports that were many hours, if not days, old.
Then came embedded reporters, their camera crews and faster ways of getting that footage stateside. We got the down-and-dirty, blow-up-by-blow-up accounts of everything happening in Southeast Asia.
With CNN, we were off to the races – all news, all the time. Suddenly, people, politicians and governments could run, but they couldn’t hide.
Oh, but they’ve tried, most recently in the Middle East. News regarding the ongoing political upheaval in Egypt was blanked out when its now-defunct government shut down the Internet and wireless communications – the two most effective methods protesters were using to get their messages out to their countrymen and to the world. The silence didn’t last long, however; there’s a workaround to everything, and the ban subsequently was lifted. The past few weeks have put a new spin on wireless. Smartphones. Social networking. Connected flip cams and laptops. Satellite transmissions. They all helped derail a 30-year train ride (perhaps with more to come), and their importance is unprecedented.
On this side of the Atlantic, the Obama administration just released its plan for a more wireless America – to mixed reviews. The Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative says in part “catalyzing private investment and innovation and reducing the deficit by $9.6 billion…will help the United States win the future and compete in the 21st century economy.” The plan, of course, is backed by the wireless industry and many ISPs, while most broadcasters are hesitating at any incentives to sell their rented spectrum at auction to make room for more wireless activity and a long-awaited, dedicated, public-safety network.
I don’t know how all this will shake out; I just know that it will…eventually. I watched all the machinations behind the digital-TV transition, which took decades to come to fruition. But it did. There were those in the early Eighties who thought cellphones never would be cheap enough for everyday use. Telcos doing TV and cablecos offering voice and Internet? Who knew?
More than 50 years ago, President Kennedy offered the following sound bite, and it still rings true: “I do not mean first, but. I don’t mean first, when. I don’t mean first, if. I mean first – period." Today’s real question is: Who will take the wireless challenge, and will it finally reinstate the United States as the Number One provider of weapons of global mass broadband instruction? Just thinkin’.