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How to find our position in global village

It was Canadian academic Marshall McLuhan who came up with the term “Global Village,” which he popularised in his books ‘‘The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man’’ and ‘‘Understanding Media’’.

He described how the globe, hitherto characterised by huge distances, had been reduced to a mere village by electric technology.

By that he meant that information could now travel almost instantaneously to reach distances that fastest ships and aircraft took days, if not months, to surmount.

As a result, news from one end of the world could be read in the other within a very short time, just like in a village.

In ‘‘Letters of Marshall,’’ McLuhan emphasised the instantaneous movement of information from every quarter to every point at the same time. He predicted not just the Internet but convergence of broadcast and telecommunications.

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It has all come to pass and we must live with it. News from Matondoni in Lamu County is broadcast instantaneously to the Aleut people of the Arctic region in Canada just like in a village.

To make this possible, investments in fibre optics and satellite technologies run into billions of dollars and several treaties and agreements were signed.

Virtual addresses have been created in almost every part of this world. Countries have attempted to police the Internet but have failed.

Narendra Modi’s new government in India, for instance, has tried moral policing but this has been seen as a waste of public resources.

Several companies such as Skype, Netflix, Google and Facebook have developed technologies that go over the top (OTT) of local telecommunication companies to offer their content directly to consumers. They don’t need anybody’s permission to do that. In fact, they are indispensable to telecommunication companies.

If we tried to regulate these OTTs, we’ll probably spend our entire government budget and still fail. We should just learn from the countries that have tried and failed. It is a waste of time to imagine regulating the Internet.

Kenya has made it clear to all international agencies that manage the Internet resources, that we have no intention of regulating the Internet.

Not when World Bank studies show that 10 per cent Internet penetration leads to at least 1.3 per cent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth.

The Internet infrastructure has lowered the cost of communications and enabled inclusive development. Millions of outsourced jobs are created yearly because of the Internet. It defeats logic to imagine we can wage war on the freedoms of Internet and win.

To begin with, Internet access is a choice you make. If you don’t want it because it propagates immorality, then don’t hook yourself to it. It is that simple.

It is, however, not the same for other broadcast technologies such as the latest Digital Video Broadcast Technology (DVBT) that we often refer to as Free to Air. With a decoder, this will come to you whether you like it or not. That is why it is regulated.

We are not the first ones to imagine regulating the OTTs. The European Union once nursed the same thoughts because most of these technologies come out of the US. They quickly discovered that they were undermining their own free market ideology.

Although there are still murmurs regarding finding a sustainable financial balance between telcos and OTTs, the activities of OTTs will not be regulated. The best option is new innovations and developing lots of local content for dissemination through OTTs and emergent technologies.

This comes from the maxim - if you cannot beat them, join them. Let’s focus on how to produce as much content as possible.

Many years of calling for local content bore nothing, perhaps because many believed that digital migration would never be a reality. They perhaps failed to understand the role of fibre optic roll out throughout the country.

There are significant benefits to these investments. We must seek to understand where the opportunities lie and exploit them. Like the Nigerians have done in film, we must see Africa as our market, and produce more content on diverse topics.

Our problem in Kenya is that we tend to fight over leadership and are afraid of failure. We are even more afraid of our critics, forgetting that those who wither criticism laugh all the way to the bank.

Although we initially used to criticize Nigerian films, the same films have now heavily influenced our accent. Opportunities exist in virtually every sector of the economy.

By innovating around them, we will begin to solve the elusive unemployment problem and at the same time reduce poverty.

Above all, we must revive the creative industry in Kenya knowing that the world has become a Global Village.

The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s Business School.

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