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Indian Pirate Radio and Sustainable Development
Alex Steffen, 22 Mar 04

In the US, the free radio movement is much smaller than the free software (or Open Source) movement, but the impetus behind the two is much the same: distribute the best tools for communication that we can create together, as widely and freely as possible. ((Indeed, if you want weirdly direct evidence of the movement's cultural similarities, check out Radio Free Linux, which broadcasts computerized readings of Linux's source code...))

The biggest difference is that while software code is largely unregulated, the airwaves aren't. Though public property, radio frequencies are assigned and legally protected by the US gov't. Still, transmitters are within the financial grasp of most people, there is a legal process available for licensing small radio stations, and, when it comes right down to it, for most people in the developed world, access to microradio is not a life-and-death issue, as the Net, palmtop publishing, even good old photocopied-fliers-taped-to-telephone-poles are all widely available. I'm down with free radio, but I not depending on it.

Which is where I and most of the Indian Subcontinent part ways. For the vast majority of Indians, radio is a critical tool for spreading knowledge, organizing community resources and pursuing sustainable development.

But, as Indian entrepreneur Suhit Anantula points out in an excellent blog entry, 780,000 Windows, All Shut, the Indian govenment is incredibly resistant to loosening controls over radio frequencies:

"780,000 channels. That is the total number of "community radio stations" possible in India.

"Rural India's best ICT tool till date is The Radio: Rural India's Window to the world. It is by far the best and cheapest way to deliver e-content over a large population and a large geographical area. It underlines the fact that the best technological solution for rural India is still Wireless Tech.

"If this is true, then why is it still not permitted to start a "community radio". One of the easiest ways to provide information, educational content, market prices, agri-extension guidance in all the possible languages [& dialects] in India and being as local and relevant as possible is through the radio.

"Frederick Noronha writes about how the Government of India controls the airwaves and makes it almost impossible to start a "community radio" disallowing a chance to the millions of Indias "to come out of the cycle of poverty"."

There's more here, a lot more. Well worth a read. (Thanks, Rajiv!)

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Even though (and perhaps because) we have national forest and national park systems, we have groups like The Nature Conservancy, which buy up land and manage it for posterity.

Consider, too, that some non-profit could buy up frequencies, even though they're already public property, and essentially manage and sub-lease them.

Small radio stations may come and go, especially ultra-low-budget public-service or politically-active ones, but The Spectrum Conservancy remains, and when one tiny radio station is done with that frequency, it gets handed off to another.

Thanks for the thought-provoking entry.

Posted by: Paul Mitchum on 22 Mar 04



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