Courtesy Reuters

Direct Broadcast Satellites: Proximity, Sovereignty and National Identity

We are on the verge of great changes in the international structures and effects of that most pervasive of mass media, television. We are passing from the era of the low-powered distribution satellite, which transmits programs through the filter of a broadcaster or a cable system, into the era of the Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS), with a higher-powered signal which can go straight into the individual home.

Under a DBS system, all manner of nations, or even all manner of companies which make franchise deals with nations, will have the technical capacity to arrange these direct transmissions to the public the world over. This signal can be transnational and unfiltered. The transmissions have scant respect for existing markets, for national boundaries, for copyright and artistic properties, or for the established political and power structure of broadcasting.

DBS will, in effect, create proximity between far-flung points; all countries across oceans and cultures could become as Canada to the United States, as Ireland to Britain, as the other islands of the Caribbean to Cuba. The economics of communications satellites are not distance-sensitive. They destroy geography. The transmission cost is in sending the signal up and down rather than across. For a satellite with a signal range which spans a continent or an ocean, distances within the cone-like or oval shape of the area reached by the signal-the so-called cone of transmission-become of little economic importance.

Direct Broadcast Satellites, even allowing for cultural differences, barriers of language, and the high cost of entry into the business, make possible an unregulated invasion into traditional domestic markets. With a working DBS, we could all become each other's neighbors, with everything that implies, to be enriched, influenced and irritated by each other. In that sense we may all become Canadians now.

Such proximity has serious implications for the business and political structure of broadcasting. It will have long-term social and international policy implications, opening the way, at least technically, for exchanges of values, information and propaganda of

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