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Amitabh Kumar

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Convergence is a convenient Buzzword
by Amitabh Kumar   
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Last edited: Saturday, March 01, 2008
Posted: Saturday, March 01, 2008

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Convergence is a convenient Buzzword
Find out how!

Convergence is a convenient Buzzword

As a part of my day to day indulgence in technologies of telecommunications, computers, information technology, media and broadcasting the single most unpleasant part of may existence has been to deal with the words “convergence” and have the mental agility to be able to fathom the myriad ways in one single word can be used.

Putting it in a holistic manner, the word convergence is used to describe the unification of transmission media for various functions and its resultant capability to handle multiple types of services. For example when the networks went digital, they could obviously carry data and digitized voice. This was the first manifestation of convergence. Later video and audio could also be carried on the same networks. So far so good. I could live with such definition of convergence.

However the word was soon hijacked for more convenient purposes. There are many manifestations of such hijacking but it might suffice to cite only a few examples. The most prominent hijacking was by regulators of various services. The licensing of services such as voice, long distance, broadcasting and media related services has been traditionally done independently of each other.

Traditionally media in every country is regulated more stringently than say voice communications. The foreign equity caps may be different ranging from 0% to 25% in media against 49% to 100% in telecoms and internet.

However regulators in one of the countries found that nothing more convenient could be found than “ convergence” in order that the licensing be extended by a back door route. It pronounced that as the networks in the “ convergence era” can carry all types of information without distinction, those having licenses for ( say a communications and long distance network) can also provide Mobile TV or TV. It was perhaps too tempting to convey such a dispensation.

Along side was another service called the FM radio. However it was said that the FM radio operators can not network their radio stations, could not provide news and could not repeat the feeds on internet. Some one asked- can the FM radio not carry news? The answer was that it is a question of media regulation. The word convergence was not convenient to use here for some reasons.

On the other hand, those holding a telecom license could begin providing Mobile TV, audio including news without any restriction or license. As in the era of “ convergence” after all the network can carry everything without distinction. Evidently some forgot that the said operators do not have any media related license or even an FM license, and even to them such content is allowed. Evidently if the word convergence was not convenient it was best not to mention it. If it did exist, so be it.
Again for reasons of convenience news began to be allowed on FM from March 2008 but perhaps by now many of the players had shed a lot of blood.

The next avtar of convergence was in IPTV where it was said that as the “ networks are convergent” those holding a communications services licence can carry IPTV without further any license. The “ convergence” which is a reality was after all to be respected.
However it was not to the taste of many license holders of communications services that such convergence be extended to the Internet Service Providers or ISPs.
In fact it should have been the other way. IP networks are the ones truly convergent in the sense that they can carry voice, video, streaming audio or anything else seamlessly. Hence if there was one single entity to whom convergence should have meant being permitted to carry voice calls and IPTV was strictly denied the same. The ISP in the country of “convergent networks” are not permitted to carry any VoIP calls across the internet to any public phone line. They are also not permitted mobile TV or IPTV. Apparently convergence weighs less in their territory. When questioned that after all there are over 3000 TV stations and radio stations across the internet, which can not be stopped in their networks, there has not been any significant sign that it has been understood or acknowledged. Some operators e.g. holding a communications license can provide everything owing to “convergence”. Others with truly convergent networks can provide nothing. Media houses and broadcasters need to obtain permission for every channel uplinked or downlinked, they are not to talk of convergence.

Is it the great ingenuity of human mind which can ascribe such wide manifestations to a single word “convergence” or is it that both convergence and convenience start with a C?

In any event I don’t see it.

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