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The Gordian Knot:
Political Gridlock on the Information Highway

by W. Russell Neuman, Lee W. McKnight, Richard Jay Solomon, Lee Mcknight

ISBN 0262640392 / 9780262640398 / 0-262-64039-2
Publisher The MIT Press
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

As social, political, and business forces struggle to come to terms with new communications technology, innovation doesn't progress--it freezes up. This sociopolitical and economic gridlock is what Neuman, McKnight, and Solomon are calling the "Gordian Knot." The authors examine how similar gridlock has happened in the past with other new technologies; for example, during the development of the railroad, among the telephone companies, and, more recently, with the international and inter-industrial wrestling matches over High Definition Television. The introduction of each of these technologies has involved a clash of economic interests among industrial giants or would-be giants--all of which have struggled to control access, standards, and proprietary technology in the emerging industry.

Meanwhile, government has tried to contend with the issue of how much control to exert over standards, technology, and rate structures in order to protect both the industries and the consumers. As the book explains, the resulting gridlock has often resulted in new industries taking decades to become mature, efficient, and able to operate profitably without unfairly exploiting their customers. In the minds of the authors, with modern telecommunications becoming an increasingly vital part of our daily lives and businesses, we can't afford such a tangled knot.

Neuman, McKnight, and Solomon propose cutting the Gordian Knot of gridlock with Open Communications Infrastructure (OCI), a system that they feel best combines the benefits of government oversight with those of laissez-faire. OCI is a system of largely free-market competition with just enough governmental oversight to ensure that competitors stay within bounds. Those bounds are described by the four essential qualities of the infrastructure: open architecture, open access, universal access, and flexible access.

The authors present their arguments in a clear, precise style and with a dry sense of humor. The many case histories illustrate the ironies of human folly and help you take a second look at our technological progress of the past 150 years, clearly stating that we could have progressed much further by now. Neuman, McKnight, and Solomon conclude by showing that this gridlock will have to change if we wish for the cybercultural revolution to proceed according to our dreams. [via]