As a first step an examination could be taken of the raison d'Ãªtre for regulating traditional communication services and infrastructures against the potential of the new services. The specificities of the Internet environment should be taken into account by regulation and especially how new services such as webcasting might contribute to many of the original goals of such regulation. In this context for example, the initial indications are that webcasting holds the potential for greater pluralism and cultural diversity -- two of the traditional goals of broadcasting policy.
For a number of countries, the development of new services such as webcasting is viewed as necessitating a review over time of the regulation of traditional services to take into account the new environment. The need for such reform is likely to gather momentum because the Internet, and particularly leading edge webcasting services, are already changing the way users access information, entertainment and communication services. While webcasting services are in many ways immature relative to traditional services, in terms of quality and accessibility, the pace of technological development is such that the gap will narrow over the next several years. Indeed, many webcasting services will be seamlessly integrated into traditional infrastructures and services very rapidly. The more webcasting comes to resemble traditional services the greater the challenge will become to the existing regulatory frameworks. This implies, if technological neutrality is to be practised, that existing regulation of traditional services needs to be reviewed in this light.
At the same time, webcasting over the Internet is raising a number of issues for policy makers dealing with telecommunication. In particular these issues are concerned with interconnection between different types of networks. As long as bottlenecks exist in certain infrastructure, some ongoing telecommunication regulation aimed at ensuring conditions such as non-discrimination and transparency, will be necessary as convergence progresses. On the other hand the question of how to adapt safeguards and privileges accorded to the interconnection of "like networks" to alternative communication infrastructures (i.e. different platforms such as Internet) in terms of regulation need to be addressed. Some regulatory practices, such as specifying co-location or unbundling of network elements, may need to be extended to Internet Access Providers to ensure non-discriminatory access to essential facilities.
OECD analysis, based on 'Web21' data, indicates that the most accessed Internet content originates on the West Coast of the US. In June 1997 some 40 of the most accessed 100 websites appear to be located in California. In respect to webcasting, some 37 of the most accessed 100 audio websites are in California and Washington State. Webcasting will increase the need to locate the most accessed content close to users if congestion is to be avoided. So called 'IP Multicasting', enabling the shared use of the same data stream, may address this issue in the future. In the shorter term network providers will take action to minimise transmission costs, maximise network performance and avoid access congestion that may increase due to webcasting. This factor may raise a number of new issues for policy makers. These issues are largely concerned with the distribution of content such as debates over international settlements, in respect to carriage, and the storage of content in respect to caching. Some owners of intellectual property are concerned that increased commercial caching may undermine their business models for electronic commerce. On the other hand infrastructure providers would like governments to clarify their position in respect to technologies they view as essential for efficient network management and improving the Internet's responsiveness for electronic commerce applications.
In 1997 it might seem relatively easy to place webcasting on a list of issues to be dealt with in the future. The technology, while dynamic, is relatively immature and so are the services. Clearly the quality of webcasting, at the speeds most commonly accessed by dial-up Internet users, does not lend itself to the standards of broadcasting by traditional media. Nor does Internet access, both from the perspective of users connected to the Internet and for the number of users that can access the same content at the same time, yet approach access to radio and television broadcasting. On the other hand much of this is set to change relatively quickly as Internet services become further integrated into existing Â£broadcasting technologies' and IP multicasting technologies are employed on widespread basis. Indeed, leading webcasting companies are saying that the first major commercial deployment of IP multicasting will enable streaming media services to accessed by 50 000 simultaneous users, or 10 to 15 million users of a daily basis.