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The phenomena of globalization have its underpinning through advanced communication technology and quick transportation facilities. This paper aims to discuss the evolution of communication technology with a comparative perspective taking United States and Russia as examples. The intuition to study the evolution of communication technology of these two countries is derived from the fact that they are significantly different in the state structure and their respective interests vis-à-vis each other. Both have been involved in a cut-throat competition for advanced technology during the cold war, and improved communication technology bears no exception. These two countries have made huge investments in the development of communication technology and have actively sought policies aimed to achieve the said objectives. Both countries have different political and social setups which make them very viable to compare and contrast between the aspects of communication technology pursued by these two countries. Internet, communication, cyber-security and digital broadcasting are among the top-notch issues between Moscow and Washington.

Case of United States:
Communication technology owes its evolution to four important factors in the United States. These are summed up as (1) drive to digitize the communication process (2) through a focused purpose of consolidating the information (3) fastened by the deregulation process and (4) demanded by the process of globalization (Hamelink 1996). These trends have gained importance in 1980 and have increased in their significance ever since. The process of digitization has helped spread information across border especially in electronic formats, increased technological integration, promoting deregulation and reinforcing the process of globalization.

Development of the communication technology of United States is marked by two different epochs which characterize seemingly contradicting ideals. One the one hand, the media industry is becoming excessively commercialized. The process of privatization has gained increased ascendancy during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Only few corporations control the communication technology and media. This rampant commercialization poses a major challenge to the capacity of the communication technology and media to generate a democratic political culture. The arena of information technology is powered by few giants purportedly supporting the “dominant ideology” (Abercrombie, Hill & Turner 1980).  However on the other hand, increasing accessibility and the ease of communication through internet poses a serious threat to the states capability to watch over the communication flow. Advanced computing capabilities and digital communication technology seriously undermines the traditional hierarchical manner through which a state a screen the data flow. Internet provides very cheap, global, interactive and mass communication capabilities which couldn’t be fathomed even a decade ago. It is aptly described as “functioning anarchy”.

United States experience of these two opposing trends brings the fundamental question of the extent to which the communication technology can develop to override anti-democratic implications of the media marketplace. United States has allowed corporate control of communication allowing for the decentralized technological possibilities. Deregulation of communication services has triggered the process of privatization in this sector. State has withdrawn from the control of communication technology. The first period of privatization started in 1950s in the United States. However to protect consumer interests, regulatory bodies were formed which demanded far-ranging changes in the rules governing communication technology. AT & T, the American top notch telecommunication company was broken in to 22 small companies free to choose between areas of business. However there is a need for public participation in the communication policy-making, using non-marketing mechanisms to achieve socially acceptable goals. Since the new technological developments have intrinsic democratic bias, their public control should not be priority.

Few authors believe that communication technology policies in United State have only superficially democratic outlook belying the control of few interest groups. Corporate conglomerates in the communications sectors rarely bother to care about the interest of those affected. The communication system is tailored to meet the interests of few. Private concentration and commercialization are rarely good answers for democracy. For e.g. taking the example of television, few corporations are permitted to control the medium for the purpose of maximizing profits, realized through selling advertisements time.

Revolution in communication technology with the advent of internet has gained increased pace. Communication media have been reconfigured, process being accompanied by information superhighway and interactive computing. However this has not changed the fundamental dynamic of the evolution of communication technology. Corporate control and profit motives still continue to define the communication technology landscapes. Though traditional broadcasting and newspapers agencies are being pushed to the edge of bankruptcy, few entities have re-vitalized their business through a re-orientation to the digital world.  

The case of Russia:
Unlike its arch-rival, communication technology in Post-communist Russia is old. The telecommunication sector has adversely being affected from the lack of investment post the break-down of Soviet Union. One reason quoted for this trend has been the less willingness of the Russian state to invest in less tangible asset. The role of communication technology in the uplifting of National economy has been under-appreciated. Actual hardware framework of  the communication technology was given more importance at the cost of effectiveness. Given the socialist inclination of the state, communication technology have been developed with public access in mind. Profitability for private business motive to drive technological innovation has been curbed. Driven by increasing equity, state has been obsessed with keep prices artificially high. The infrastructure of telephone lines, quality of digital network, number of personal computer and all other key indicators are lagging behind the western countries. Communication technologies which are capable of large scale impacts are controlled by military. These include telecommunication and printing press. Whereas small technologies for e.g. faxes, cassettes and e-mails are beyond the state control. However, succumbing to the global pressures of transparency, much of the state control is being given up by the state.  

Achievement of an efficient level of development in the communication technology has been hampered by inappropriate taxing mechanism. Thuggery  and corruption have added to the worst factors impacting the development.  Besides the development of communication technology has been premised around centralized control. Centralized control produces large scale inefficient technology. The scale of operation in communication technology makes it difficult to cope with the small scale operations.

Development of communication technology has been slow in Russia when compared to United States. The trend can be explained through following reasons (Rantanen 2002) (2 n.d.):
1.)    Russian economy grew at a slower pace after the breakup of Soviet Union.
2.)    Russian centralized communication technology networks were incompatible with that of decentralized communication technology demands of the other countries.
3.)    Foreign companies were barred from making overture in the Russian communications technology landscape.
4.)    Ministry of communication given the sole authority to monopolize the sector.
5.)    Organization of the internet network was premised to be centralized, in an inherent contradiction to the nature of internet.

Because of the neo-liberal political landscape and capitalistic inclinations, Communication technology in United State have developed along the format of private-owned, decentralized control. The invisible hand is expected to guard the interests of the public maximizing efficiency of the system. The dynamics of the system has made it susceptible to corporate control by few conglomerates. This belies an authoritarian control purporting “dominant ideology” beneath a superficial outlook of democratic nature. In contrast, Russia has more centralized control over its communication technology. This has led to poor growth in the development of communication technology. As a result, Russia lags in communication technology development. 

About The Author: Hamid Khan is a an alumni of Lahore University of Management Sciences. He received his Master's degree in Economics from LUMS. His areas of interest includes economics and social science. He can be reached at 2hmdKhan(at-the-rate)gmail.com

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