Although the term Information Highway has been called a flawed metaphor, it serves an important role in providing a catch-all term for developments that are in chaos and are poorly understood. It is used to refer to such diverse phenomena as interactive television, video on demand, home shopping, multimedia and distance education. While the INTERNET provides a crucial model for the future, it is only one aspect of the revolution in communications, as it has been supplemented by other technologies.
While the initial media hype has abated and some skepticism has emerged, the communications industries are showing no such ambivalence about the Information Highway and, in doing so, are supported by governments across the world. Japan alone has committed $450 billion to building the Superhighway by the year 2015, whereas the US has pledged $100 billion, Europe $200 billion and the UK $45 billion. In Canada, concern over the potential loss of "competitiveness" in these developments led to the formation of the Information Highway Advisory Council in 1994 by the federal Department of Industry to aid government in forming public policy.
Industry and government have concluded that the Information Highway will be the driving force behind economic growth of the next century through new services delivered to home and business and through the transformation of existing services. Success in the new regime will require that each of the traditional information and communications industries re-evaluates how they do business and how they interact with consumers - or in the case of government, how it interacts with the public. All the traditional media producers, from television and film to book publishing, will need to reconsider the means by which they deliver their content.
The ability to translate all media into digital form is fundamental to all the changes associated with the Information Highway. Digitization refers to the process by which all media, from video to text, are processed by computers, manipulated, mixed, transformed and delivered in new ways.
Spread of the Internet
Whether driven by predicted opportunities, fear of being left behind or by unexpected developments, the coming of the Information Highway has brought chaos to the traditional communications industries. Like all major historical changes, the Information Highway has rapidly blurred the lines between old technologies and given rise to new connections (see MEDIA CONVERGENCE). In 1995, the CRTC recommended that cable and telephone companies be able to compete in formerly exclusive domains. In book publishing, traditional publishers see themselves forced to form new partnerships with graphic arts and computer programmers. The outcome of these technological convergences will depend on innovations in a highly competitive market.
In an area of vast private investment, many people worry that a revolution driven starkly by profit will ignore the public good, that, for example, convergence of content producers and content deliverers will result in biased sources of information. The new technologies obviously offer great new opportunities for education both in the schools and at home, but the question of who will invest in the rich content needed to raise the Information Highway above the consumerism and entertainment culture that dominates television remains open. In Canada the potential that the vestiges of Canadian culture will disappear in a world-wide culture dominated by a handful of media conglomerates is likely to persist for the time being.
Author Revised: SASHA YUSUFALI
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
Click on the "Frequently Asked Questions" and "Consumers" links for quick access to backgrounders on current issues of interest to consumers. Click on "Our Organization" for links to information about how the CRTC operates and its history. Also offers links to online copies of many reports and publications that examine specific issues in detail.
TV on the Internet
Find out why some television programs available on the Internet cannot be accessed in Canada. From the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
The Cartt.ca website features breaking news, in-depth feature stories, analysis, and opinion about the cable, radio, television, and telecom industries in Canada.
The McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology
The website for the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. Features a biography of Marshall McLuhan, program information, and video clips from previous conferences.
The accelerator of the modern age
A BBC news story about British mathematician Donald Davies' pioneering work on "packet switching" technology, which vastly improves the efficiency of moving data around computer networks.
Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance
The website for the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance, an advocate for Canada's high-tech sector. Offers the latest news about information technology issues in Canada.
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
The website for the journal International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Offers full text online academic articles about open and distance learning worldwide.
The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic
The website for CIPPIC, an organization that focuses on issues concerning the intersection of law and technology. From the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa.
The website for Thomson Reuters, a leading international provider of information-based products and services.
Taking sides on net neutrality
An article about CRTC regulations concerning Canadian Internet providers. From thestar.com.
Marshall McLuhan: the global village
Watch a vintage video clip in which the visionary Canadian academic Marshall McLuhan made the prescient claim that teenagers were instrumental in advancing the global shift from print to electronic communications. From a 1960 episode of the television program "Explorations" at the "CBC Digital Archives" website.
Glossary: Online News Terms
A glossary of online news terms from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.
The medium is indeed the message at the official website for the renowned Canadian visionary and multidisciplinary scholar, Marshall McLuhan. Features biographies, articles, quotations, links to teacher’s resources and much more.
Besides hockey and the maple leaf, there is little as symbolically Canadian as the CBC – the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It grew out of a developing nation's need to express its identity and find its voice.