Stop Streaming and Listen: Fight Post-Governmental-Content-Control Streaming Media breaks UK law - find out why nobody wants to care...

Streaming media deliver video or audio content over the web. But streaming media are very different from the web. In the UK such formats force BT to breach the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Act. To the grass-roots activist web-critics, this might be the right (and most likely only) time to pull the plug and prune the web. Alternatively we could happily stream on and witness how independent media production will be pushed to the periphery of the new order. Here is one of many scenarios...

1. This Tool Is Not A Rebel Tool!
Or: What Is Today's Web Potential?

We are still crouching in the eye of the storm. The first momentum of web history has passed, crashing through the myth-making machines of popular cultural theory. Today, some members of the old-time hacker scene are pulling out of the internet - dismissing its currency as a tool for radical change since the increasing commercialization has allegedly blunted the tool. Those one-track net activists have moved their battle grounds, yet their natural opponent - the state - only perceives a possible danger in the not-so-far-away-future, not today... and certainly not in the mythological mid 1990s... This is the eye of the storm. It is quiet. Naturally, this is the time where everyone is tweaking strategies and tools. The government is struggling with issues of content regulation, legislation and copyright issues; software developers achieve *real* good qualities of compression; the independent media scene establishes waterproof networks of information exchange (for free); big corps beef up their websites, ready to go, but not quite going yet. Everyone talks about merging: platforms, corporations, software, equipment, distribution, strategies, power, media. On-line initiatives are overvalued on the stock market. Nevertheless, all search engines have been sold...
When we re-enter the tornado (turnover, spin, carousel, this time it will be real!) one tool will be at the centre of the new, flash web-reality: streaming media. What is the first case of the worst-case scenario? Correct me if I am wrong, please!

2. Push Pussycat: Kill, Kill!
Or: How Streaming Media Breaks UK Law

After the revolution hype calmed down, an increasing number of skeptics appeared on the horizon, holding many convincing arguments about surveillance, neo-liberalism and consumer society up their sleeves. However, none so far has actually pondered the possibility of diverting or even stopping the internet avalanche. It seems like a ridiculous thought, but let's just stick to it for a few of paragraphs...
Shall we stop it now? Want to pull the plug on the web? To those who had enough and have long been looking for ways to shut the whole *thing* down: thank the inevitable invention of streaming media (audio and video) and go to your nearest court today! Better do it today, because the thing about outdated telecommunications legislation is that it is in urgent need of change. Next year it might be over (it most probably is!). So it's now or never...
Here is a little hint for UK residents: the Telecommunications Act 1984 and the Broadcasting Act 1990 prevent public telecommunications operators from conveying or providing entertainment services nationally to homes. In other words: BT is theoretically in breach of the 'broadcast ban' when more than one viewer watches the same broadcast over the Internet. A website providing scheduled programmes or simply streaming their radio or TV channel online creates a situation in which this is the case, almost by default. An awkward wormhole in the telecommunications and broadcasting legislation, deriving from parameters which were not predictable at the time. This is commonly known. This is the law. These are regulations put in place by the government to keep BT on a leash: committed to nation-wide connection, but distant from private cable TV providers. If it had not been for streaming media, the government never had manoeuvered itself into this catch 22. What's next? (contd.)

To those publicly minded readers who have a tendency for paranoia (as I do, see below) and some extra time at hand: why not team up with your favourite ambitious local media and take on the biggies? Chew more than you can bite off.

3. I Know What You Did Last Summer: Stream!
Or: What Happened?

"One of my students" wrote to me: "the internet will be like radio". Hm... And continues: "over in the corner on a shelf". Certainly scoring some points. Yes, radios sit on shelves. Yes, TV licensing fees pay for BBC websites. And yes, the internet will be something different. However, it seems unlikely the internet will sit quietly on the shelf in the corner. Radio keeps pushing out content, blurbing away in the corner. As you listen to radio, it disappears in real-time. It's gone, with no place to retrieve the passing packages of information from. The best you can do is keep listening, or even better: go out and buy a paper. Or go online and search for text or hope to find a sound archive which will replay on demand. With the development of streaming media formats (the most commonly used format - real media - allowing audio and video transmission), a number of independent media initiatives went online, working on experimental audio networks which might best be described as mixed media formats of live and archive in text, image and sound. As often with web developments, the new tool with comparably poor quality initially attracted a number of small media practitioners and activists, leaving the big media corporations behind. To those small initiatives, the archive became crucial. Web-broadcasting turned out to be most successful when having somebody to talk to, whereas the archives became more frequently visited by content enthusiasts and those who missed the event. Additionally, the limited number of simultaneous listeners technically able to connect to real-servers also provides a glass ceiling above the audience.
More and more big media corporations moved into the web, lacking the innovative spirit, they simply blasted their material through the phone lines and with the necessary money behind them, provided a potent number of simultaneous connection points. Online media archive became a work intensive luxury of the media peripheries.
To some there seems little difference between broadcasts and archives on the receiving end of the user. But this is certainly wrong. Firstly, if it wasn't for scheduled web broadcasts, the BT and the UK government would not be in the legislative telecommunications Bermuda triangle. Secondly, pushing out content requires massive access for the content provider with many simultaneous connections to reach a big audience. In contrast, an archive where users pull their media on demand can work on a less bombastic scale and still reach many people.

4. I Stream, You Stream, We All Stream For Ice Cream
Or: What Do We Get In Return?

Using streaming media for projects was the thing to do. And so we did. Projects and links of various degrees of experimentation were established. For nothing. Then through arts funding and eventually the skills required to do that *streaming thing* were valuable skills to the media industries. Having the necessary financial backing to invest in many (not too) many connection points, big media corps overcame the technical restrictions by throwing money at the problem of simultaneous connectivity. The same restrictive problem (on the other end of the spectrum) initialized some of the most interesting, decentralized network strategies in the so-called underground (for example linking up a number of small real servers and by doing so multiplying the number of access channels, or creating streaming loops between various servers which would allow a series of entry points into a decentralized audio space).
With an increase in streaming activities of the central mainstream channels, mass media might soon be a streaming centre in the web. Synchronized broadcasting phenomena - as typified by international TV events like the world cup - have already entered the internet. The judge's announcement in the Louise Woodward trial was firstly published online and gave the service providers a real shock through the creation of a precedent - millions of users simultaneously knocking on their door and instantly requiring their package of HTTP information. This is not dissimilar to the effect when the boiling of kettles at half time of a televised world cup match forces atomic power plants to buffer the dramatic surge in electricity demand.

5. Kill jingle FM with logo TV
Or: How Much Is The Screen?

In comparison to the ordinary pull media website, streaming media products are expensive (especially when broadcasted). The costs of servers and bandwidth are still considerable financial restrictions. But more importantly, with an increase in the quality provided by the available formats, the aesthetics of streaming media will change - which in turn will up the costs of production.
So far streaming media have mainly been utilized by audio based initiatives. Few web TV projects established themselves. This is undergoing an expected change. More and more video initiatives enter the agenda, and subsequently more and more TV-like programmes become part of the aesthetic form of the web. This was the case for inline graphics first provided by browsers such as Mosaic and Mozilla. The same will soon be the case with video on demand services and live streams.
Making TV is more expensive than making radio is more expensive than making ordinary websites is more expensive than making text (FTP, Gopher, ...). The increase in production costs for state-of-the-consumer-art websites modeled on broadcasting TV will possibly not directly effect the tactical media fringe (and on the way even allow a lot of clever media hacks). But as it will change the surface of the web, the distance between expensively produced websites and the *rest* will come closer to the distance between glossy magazines and photocopied fanzines.
The aesthetic standard of streaming video combined with the primed behavior of well-trained TV users and the existing structures of big media corps seem to point towards a new structure of the web. With online TV (or whatever it will be called eventually) we will see a new centre on the web, a mighty tech-park with big bandwidth and glossy content. This centre will be inhabited by very few corporations, precisely those who already own most of the media space. More merging on a screen near you.

6. Overcoming Notions Of Dealing With Issues
Or: Post-Governmental-Content-Control: Control Beyond The Law

Given the transnational reality of the web, content regulation on a national basis presents a legislative deadlock for governments. Content can be moved anywhere and still remain accessible from locations where it is *illegal*. Alternatively to legislation and law enforcement, the UK government might have different strategies, and therefore a good reason to accept the spreading of the internet instead of crashing down on BT and other network providers which are in breach of the Telecommunications Act 1984 and the Broadcasting Act 1990 (see above).
In the worst case scenario, three to five media mergers will provide almost all of the content available online. In this case, the government would not need to bother about legislative content regulations, instead it could spend more energy on lobbying with the biggies in order to avoid controversial material from entering the digital realms of the web. Content regulation will be decided upon over dinner, this way the public will overcome notions of dealing with issues.
The feeble attitude of UK government against its own laws might indicate the first case of the worst case scenario. This has nothing to do with the emerging structures and bottom-up decision making of online users. This is the inevitable possibility of a real history.

February 1999