April 09, 2004

Practical Libertarianism: Broadcast

An occasional series on what I'd love to see the Libertarian Party adopt instead of their half-baked impractical radicalism

Dear Mr. Libertarian:

What would you do about the problem of the public airwaves and the problem of broadcast immorality?

I'm glad to get a chance to address this topic. The problem of the public airwaves is, first of all, that they are public. They were conceived in a time and place when people did not have the vision necessary to create a functioning, innovative, superior form of over the air communications system. Unfortunately, the system that was chosen then was flawed. It was flawed because it did not take into account progress. It remains flawed to this day because it subjects progress to the political process and thus we have a technically backwards system that stunts progress. We're not used to improving things and if we are willing to change that, not only will we be able to solve the problem of public filth but we will be able to do so without compromising our principles of liberty and free speech.

One of the most important things any nation faces is the subject of virtue. A degraded people will give up their inheritance of liberty and justice for a mess of pottage. We must, as citizens, strive to create a climate where this never happens. But how shall we do this? Should we use the club of the state to beat down with fines or prison terms those of our compatriots who make moral mistakes? Or should we fight speech with speech, vulgarity with nobility, and work to ennoble the people through the example of virtue? I believe that the best choice for America is a new path where we abandon the club of the fine or the censor, the license and the jail term.

But how shall we ensure that the vulgar do not swamp the virtuous? How can we ensure that the limited number of broadcast stations are not held by a small group that does not share our values and dominates the airwaves? I believe that we have the capability of reforming the airwaves by converting them from a system of broadcast to a system of multicast.

Most people, if they ever look at their phone wiring, will see four wires. a red, green, yellow and black insulated piece of copper that is wrapped in a bundle. With that phone line, you can carry one, two, 24, 30, or more conversations simultaneously depending on what sort of equipment you put on each end of the wire. If you use the same sort of telephone your grandfather might have used you'll be getting one or two conversations out of those wires. If you use more sophisticated equipment that was modern back in the 1970s you're able to get 20-30 conversations out of the same wires.

We're now able to do a similar thing with TV and radio, change the transmitters and receivers that's at both ends of exchange from broadcast equipment to multicast equipment, an Internet style way of getting content to a lot of people and we should make that conversion as soon as we can. Once you go to multicast instead of broadcast, the government is no longer forcing the country into an artificial shortage of 'stations' which they use to justify all sorts of intrusive things that the government has no business doing in a normal free society.

One thing about the way this technology works is that it enables parents to filter out inappropriate content for the minors in our care. Parents can leave those filters off or they can put them on, or they can even monitor what their children listen and watch in a nightly report and just talk to them if the kids are poking into what's age inappropriate.

Giving parents the power to supervise their children is a traditional model for promoting virtue that the government should be accommodating. It's a model that allows us to stop doing constitutionally dubious backflips that keep verbal media and visual media outside the full protection of the 1st amendment. And its a model that is future reform friendly. It will allow for even brighter, even smarter future generations to build something even better with a fraction of the effort it will take us to move to a multicast system in the first place.

Posted by TMLutas at April 9, 2004 03:19 PM