THE MASTER SWITCH: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires

Editorial Review - Kirkus - Jane Doe

Powerful forces are afoot to take control of the Internet—for profit, of course. It's happened before, writes Slate contributor Wu (Copyright and Communications/Columbia Univ.; co-author: Who Controls the Internet?, 2006), and the corporations have won just about every time.Take Alexander Graham Bell, for instance, "a professor and an amateur inventor, with little taste for business." More at ... Read full review

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An excellent history of the communications and information industries in America. The author brings it all home by relating historic trends to today's major policy and technology shifts and leaves us hanging as to whether history will repeat itself once again. Net neutrality: get up speed on policy and exert your utmost influence.  

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Disclaimer: I am a telecommunications and Internet lawyer that works in many of the areas about which Professor Wu writes, so I may have more than a casual interest in the subject matter. Having said that, the first half of the book really goes beyond media and information policy but rather provides a thrilling and entertaining account of the larger-than-life personalities who helped shaped America's information infrastructure. This was a time when many CEOs, even when pursuing corporate profit, also seemed to have a sense of contributing to society's goals. Yes, often, they confused what was good for their own company with what was good for the country. The book also provides compelling stories relating to the cycle of innovation in various media and telecommunications fields -- stories that repeat themselves over and again. These stories leave us to question how the existing innovation explosion involving the way movies and television are distributed, instant messaging and text messaging, tweets, social media, search, mobile Internet access, music -- how the innovation surrounding these media will develop. The book might leave one with the urge to want to ensure our policies incubate and protect such innovation before owners of the Master Switch seek to dominate and control those spaces. In the end, though, I found the book leaving me optimistic over our country's history of innovation -- a history that survives sometimes against staggering odds and often born in the most humble circumstances, even for example a friend's garage. - Markham Erickson 

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Innovation has been a serial killer in the information industry since the advent of the telephone doomed the telegraph. Great advances in communications technology herald the start of new industries, but the corporate history of such breakthroughs shows a cycle of fragmentation followed by concentration, followed by another breakthrough and another splintered set of small companies chasing that innovation’s promise. The Internet may defy this cycle. Whether control of the web will consolidate or remain diffuse remains to be seen. However, historic patterns suggest that today’s major Internet companies may become part of larger media empires, thus centralizing control of online content. Columbia University professor Tim Wu offers a rich saga tracing the evolution of telecommunications industries, technology and regulations, and explains what these patterns portend. He says policy makers must limit corporate control of the web because open online information now is essential to society. getAbstract recommends Wu’s book to readers interested in the future of the information industry and its centerpiece, the Internet.
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A separation principle of content from transport would maintain an open internet. The author discusses the history of telecommunications and describes an open-to-closed cycle. Convergence in this context means monopoly. This results from a paradox of how US consumers chose convenience over freedom. Other factors are network effects, power of integration, economies of scale, and will to power. There are five parts for twenty-one chapters. 

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Wu, a vocal proponent of network neutrality, lectures on how the information technologies of the 20th century evolved in a cyclic manner from an inventor's brainchild to a monopolized industry. Nearly a decade ago, other writers wrote convincing and succinct articles on net neutrality. In 300+ pages, Wu might have discussed how other technologies demonstrate a different pattern and thus do not demand neutrality. J.P. Miller. Cambridge, MA.  

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