Mobility, Spectrum, and Television
Barbara Crow / York University


Stephen Colbert, at your fingertips

As this is my last column, I would like to take this opportunity to bring some of the observations about mobility, spectrum, and television to a close. It is my position that television studies need to pay continued attention to the carriage and content debates as telecommunications companies are struggling with how to both deliver and control media content on cell phone devices. As well, we need to be asking important questions not only about the regulation of these telecommunications in the context of increased ownership and convergence of communication technologies, but also about users, aesthetics and design. Questions such as who uses these technologies when and how easy are they to use, see and hear with?

Google’s movement to develop and implement mobile telephony applications has moved from rumor to fact with Android. Android is an “open handset alliance project” designed to facilitate core mobile device functionality and combine information from web with data on cell phones. This intervention may serve as a wake up call to the industry about the possibilities of open sourcing and/or sharing licensing with their software applications. Apple, again like its foray into the distribution of digital music, sound and images with iTunes in 2001, is providing groundbreaking ways in which users can develop applications and and share revenues in an effort to increase brand awareness and build consumer loyalty to their iPhones.


Android’s logo

However, despite what kind of observations I can make to industry about ways in which they may want to increase the possibilities of what their technologies can do to appease and interpellate consumers, I am also interested in how we can make the public and citizenship more central to mobile telephony.


Canadian Industry Minister Jim Prentice hopes to put consumers first

As many of you know, cell phones have been one of the fastest growing forms of communication technology in the world1. For some communities and nations, telecommunications have been made available in ways they have not been before. Many nations are skipping land line infrastructure all together and are going straight to cell phones.

At a time when wireless communications, much like the promise of radio at the turn of the twentieth century, may have another moment for us to attend to how to make these communications open, affordable, relevant and easy to use.

There are numerous international organizations committed to a larger agenda of making communications fundamental human rights such as Amnesty International, World Summit on the Information Society, and more national ones such as Free Press, the New America Foundation, and the Independent Media Center.

Independent Media Center logo

Independent Media Center logo

And for those of us who are on the move and available “anytime,” “anywhere,” and “any place,” we need to keep asking how does this work, who benefits and why now? I hope these questions can move us to think about communication technologies not only as opportunities, but to address their conditions as well.

Image Credits:

1. Stephen Colbert
2. Android logo
3. Jim Prentice
4. Independent Media Center logo

Please feel free to comment.

  1. Townsend, A. (2002). “Mobile communications in the twenty-first century.” In B. Brown, N. Green, & R. Harper (Eds.), Wireless world: Social and interactional aspects of the mobile age (pp. 62–77). London: Springer-Verlag. []


  • Thanks, Barbara. You’re right — the presence of mobile technology and its effects on televisual reception practices should be considered and evaluated in future television scholarship. This phenomena, along with the potential for activist media, has and will no doubt continue to transform how we understand the form. It will hopefully also create outlets for grassroots and DIY production, in much the same way that Laurie Ouellette observed with the emergence of the camcorder. These are fascinating developments, and hopefully something that will be explored further in this journal and at the Flow Conference.

  • Maybe this is a fallacious observation just based on my own practices, but what I find to be the biggest hindrance to televisual material on cell phones isn’t so much the technology or small screens or download speed etc, but rather the ways in which I actually use my cell phone. I am most likely to be using my cell phone – to text or talk – when driving, walking to class, grocery shopping, etc. in other words, while I’m on the move (hence mobility right?). Well, it’d be really hard for me to actually watch anything on my screen while I was participating in any of these other activities. It’s very rare that I’m actually sitting still while using my phone – and if I am, it’s usually at home, in which case I’d rather use a computer or TV for televisual experiences. I’m just curious to what extent people would really watch things on their phones, even if the technology was great – at least for me it tends to impede upon the mobile capabilities of the phone if I have to divert all my attention just to the phone and not to the other activities I’m normally engaging with while using my phone.

    And I guess this is a technological hindrance, but from the few phones I’ve seen that have televisual capabilities, they require that to be the full function of the phone at that time. In other words, you can’t be watching the Colbert clip in the image above and texting at the same time. Again, I think part of the appeal of the mobile phone is that it allows you to multitask so well and I’m not sure watching videos on my phone still enables me to multitask. Again though, maybe this is just me and the ways I use my phone. Obviously people like to use their phones for the internet capabilities, but I tend to think this is more for information-gathering, rather than entertainment etc.

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