History speeds up…

This has been a momentous year. On the 17th December 2010, unemployed Tunisian youth, Mohamed Bouazizi, after having his vegetable stall removed by the police, sets fire to himself in protest. He later dies – this was the literal spark the garnered Tunisian youth into rebellion. Within a month, Tunisian President Ben Ali, had fled to Saudi Arabia, his regime collapsing.

This movement was soon adopted by the Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians and Syrians, to a greater or lesser degree of earnest application, and repressive crackdown. Syria is ongoing; Libya spawned a Conflict all of its own, involving a myriad of Nato forces – though, no manpower on the ground. So. we heralded the “Arab Spring”…the US, for once impressive in its restraint, adopted  a “wait and see” policy – one it still maintains.

The year moves on: Mubarak finally resigns (“finally” in this context should be qualified: after a 30 year reign, to take a couple of months to oust, is no mean feat.) Libya, however, entrenches – Colonel Gaddafi isn’t going anywhere…months of violence ensue, cities are bombed, thousands displaced, hundreds killed. The western countries follow an aerial bombing campaign, a war of attrition from the sky begins and formal alliances with the rebels are established. The bombing begins to co-ordinate with rebel movement on the ground; Gaddafi flees. He is later captured, physically violated and killed by those he has ruled for 40 years, those who he swore would die to protect him…

Meanwhile, back in Europe, things are not looking quite so rosy either. We enter the fourth year of either recessionary or significantly below trend growth. The countries of the Eurozone experience further problems in their fiscal positions. Europe, in the main (Italy always being the exception), has a recent history typified by stable government. The problems of the Euro and unsustainable debt begin to take their toll – as does almost 40% youth unemployment in areas of some member countries. Individual nations begin circling around that great spiral known as “Default”. The prospect of an ignominious exit from the greatest project of European unity, now seems an all too certain outcome. Greece is likely to be the first taker. Ireland, once the doyen of the Euro enthusiasts, now is littered with entire apartment blocks nobody wants to buy, and heartbreakingly, a new exodus of its’ talents…the first mass emigration out of the western European nation’s…

So…what do we conclude? Simply, that few things are knowable, that history itself  is speeding up and our path uncertain. That mass media and technology act as both a catalyst and spur, and moreover – witness. We are all participants, we are all stakeholders and some of us get to be drivers…which direction shall we head in 2012?

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Powerful forces shaping multi media

Here at MBC we have a genuinely broad portfolio of skills. One recent concern that we have helped advise on is the content characterisation of different delivery mechanisms, for accessing your multimedia fix, between this side of the Atlantic and the other.Very learned commentators have written about such a split – recently in the Financial Times of the UK, Eli Noam said:

Much attention has been given to the middling rank of US broadband penetration, which is lower than in several European countries or Japan. But this obscures the more fundamental, costly, and time-consuming platform upgrades that are taking place in the US.

In much of Europe, broadband is carried to the user’s home over the copper phone lines of the telephone companies, using a technology known as DSL. DSL is the cheap way to go and does not require much investment. But it is relatively limited in data capacity and range. In contrast, in the US broadband is in the process of increasingly being carried over fibre telecom lines and cable television networks, which are vastly more powerful.”

He concludes with the more societally subtle point that, as these two delivery infrastructures embed, they will bring with them greater regulation on the part of European countries lacking such a cable infrastructure – and greater competition in the US, where there will essentially be two competing networks. One will, through regulation, foster greater participation as entry costs will be monitored (despite the greater cost to the consumer). The other will be both more commercial and more dynamic.

Cable companies in the UK have not been noted for their successes. Only recently did NTL announce the loss of 6000 UK based jobs (a net loss lower than this, of 3,600 once newly created outsourced jobs accounted for). This is on top of an already poor quality of service record. We believe regulation itself is to blame for the failure to thrive of the cable companies; regulation of traditional telecoms, in itself stifling competition.
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