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Hardcover | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780262140614 | 342 pp. | 5.6 x 8.6 in | October 1997
Paperback | $5.75 Short | £4.99 | ISBN: 9780262640398 | 342 pp. | 5.6 x 8.6 in | July 1999

The Gordian Knot

Political Gridlock on the Information Highway


Veterans of the high-definition TV wars of the 1980s, the authors, social scientists as well as technologists, came to see themselves as "chroniclers and students of an intriguing and serious techno-economic conflict." Why, they asked, did so few understand the rules of the game? In a broad account accessible to generalist and specialist alike, they address the current national debate about the development of a national information infrastructure, locating the debate in a broad historical narrative that illuminates how we got here and where we may be going, and outlining a bold vision of an open communications infrastructure that will cut through the political gridlock that threatens this "information highway."Technical change the authors argue is creating a new paradigm that fits neither the free market nor regulatory control models currently in play. They detail what is wrong with the political process of the national information infrastructure policy-making and assess how different media systems (telecommunications, radio, television broadcasting,) were originally established, spelling out the technological assumptions and organizational interests on which they were based and showing why the old policy models are now breaking down. The new digital networks are not analogous to railways and highways or their electronic forebears in telephony and broadcasting; they are inherently unfriendly to centralized control of any sort, so the old traditions of common carriage and public trustee regulation and regulatory gamesmanship no longer apply. The authors' technological and historical analysis leads logically toward a policy proposal for a reformed regulatory structure that builds and protects meaningful competition, but that abandons its role as arbiter of tariffs and definer of public service and public interest.

About the Author

Lee W. McKnight is Associate Professor in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University.


The Gordian Knot richly tells the history of infrastructure development in both transportation and communication in the United States as a series of battles for control by vested economic interests, battles which have often failed to serve the public interest as well as it served the private interests who have been its principal stakeholders. It also tells of the intimate, if not always effective, involvement of the federal government, as it has struggled to find a happy medium between extremes of laissez faire and heavily-regulated monopoly.”
Mitchell Kapor, Founder Lotus Development Corporation
“This book does something that really needs to be done. It addresses the current national debate about the development of an information infrastructure in a manner that is accessible to generalist and specialist readers alike, and it locates the debate in a broader historical narrative that illuminates how we got here and where we may be going.”
William Drake, Associate Director, Communication, Culture and Technology Program, Georgetown University
“Books on telecommunications rarely make for enjoyable reading. The Gordian Knot is an exception. The authors present a very cogent and, in manys ways, convincing case. They lay out their argument at the outset, and carefully walk the reader through it. They clearly bring to the discussion a much needed multi-disciplinary perspective.”
D. Linda Garcia, Resident Scholar, Foundation for rural Service, NTCA; Adjunct Professor, Communications, Culture, and Technology Program, Georgetown University


Winner of the 1997 McGannon Center Research Award