Archive | February, 2005

Linking Up the Nets

Apropos last Friday’s radioshow with guest Jason Scott of, Cory at boingboing posts about a web BBS to FidoNet BBS interface that’s been built.

FidoNET was popular in the pre-Internet days as a way for individual electronic bulletin boards to hook up and exchange messages. If I remember correctly, it works by having computers in the network that are geographically local to each other call each other and exchange data. There is order to the system, in that a system only calls certain other systems, so that data can be sent over long distances, and doesn’t just move around randomly. Prior to the public accessibility of the Internet, FidoNET provided a way to send e-mail and other messages without making expensive long distance calls to faraway computers.

Apparently FidoNET is still in use in places where Internet access isn’t very good and local phone calls are still more reliable. FidoNET has been connected with Internet e-mail for quite some time — when I first got on the ‘net in the pre-WWW days of 1993, I can recall addresses being somewhat common.

It’s cool, still, to see FidoNET hook up with other web-based messaging systems that would otherwise be out of reach for the system. The web, as a whole, is largely out of reach, primarily because a FidoNET user connects to only one other computer–a FidoNET BBS–which is not connected to a live network, and so can only store cached information and data.

As should be obvious, it would be nearly impossible for most BBSs, run on basic commodity PCs, to cache the entirety of the web, never mind the fact that a lot of the cached info would go stale really quickly.

These sorts of applications force us to question the notion of obsolescence, and refocus on the notion of utility rather than cutting edge fashion.

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Happy 5th Birthday LPFM — Tomorrow Is LPFM Day

Tomorrow is Low-Power FM Radio Day at the FCC. The Commission plans to have two forums discussing how LPFM stations can meet local needs, and some of the issues facing LPFM stations, with representatives from various LPFM stations speaking.

The FCC will webcast the proceedings at its Audio/Video Events page.

The Prometheus Radio project has planned various activities around the LPFM Day, staring today and going through tomorrow. I talked to Prometheus Program Director Hannah Sassaman about these activities on the Jan. 21 edition of the radioshow.

On Tuesday Prometheus is planning visits to congresspeople so that participants can encourage support for LPFM, especially a bill to restore the service to its original FCC plan that would allow hundreds more stations on the air, especially in crowded urban areas.

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Sinclair Smackdown

According to Broadcasting and Cable, the FCC is expected to reject a request by Sinclair Broadcast Group — the Clear Channel of TV — to purchase five stations in markets where the company already operates a TV station. Sinclair is seeking an exception to the duopoly rule that disallows owning more than one TV station in most markets.

Apparently Powell and his fellow commissioner are all cooperating on this one, and trying to make the decision airtight enough to head off any appeals that Sinclair might try to file.

The duopoly rule still stands, since its loosened replacement was struck down by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. However, most of the markets where Sinclair’s trying to buy stations — Dayton, Ohio; Charleston, W.Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Columbus, Ohio; and Baltimore, MD — are still too small to allow a duopoly under the loosened rules.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to see the FCC hold the line against Sinclair’s voracious appetite for digesting stations and spitting out the public interest.

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Repeat After Me: “Podcasting is NOT Pirate Radio”

I realize that mainstream commercial broadcast radio is so horrifically homogenized, payola-ridden and unlistenable that any alternative seems underground by comparison. But, please, can we stop comparing ‘net based audio to pirate radio?

An article on podcasting from the Mercury News is being syndicated all over the place, and like so much other press covering ‘net audio, it makes a direct correlation between podcasting and pirate broadcasting:

[A particular podcast show is] among a growing number of “podcasts,” a new online outlet for amateur broadcasters to run their own pirate radio stations [emphasis added]. No government approval required.

And just because something doesn’t require “government approval” or a license, doesn’t mean it’s pirate, either. Have we gone so far down the government-corporate-totalitarian path that we now believe anything that isn’t officially sanctioned by a government or corporation must somehow be really underground and pirate?

I’m not usually a stickler for terms, definitions and semantics. I often find that arguments over terms stand in place of arguments over ideas and action. It’s easier to sit on your ass and argue about the real meaning of “micropower broadcasting” than to actually get off your ass and broadcast or do something else meaningful.

Nevertheless, language is powerful and words are one of our primary means of expression. And when a term is overused or has it’s meaning stretched too far, it ceases to have a useful meaning. But beyond mere language, that word perversion also threatens to rob the actual thing itself of its meaning.

Pirate radio is broadcasting on the public airwaves without government sanction or license, period. Although pirates differ in ideology and purpose, they nearly all agree that that the ability to broadcast should not be restricted by the government in the way it is now.

Pirate radio is a method of direct action. Pirate radio is an act of resistance. Pirate radio is conducted in direct contravention to existing laws, policies and corporate will.

Podcasting is none of these things inherently.

A particular podcast may have strong words, may contain expression that challenges the status quo and all forms of repression. But the podcast itself is not direct action–it exists in opposition to no laws or policies, it is not illegal.

Podcasts might be cool (hey, I’ve got one), but they are not pirate radio.

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