Federal Internet Law & Policy
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- Notes

A list of some of the most significant historical works influencing Internet policy. This is not a complete list, nor is everything on this list a work - some are laws others are simply things that are important to read about. These tend to be, in my opinion, some of the most compelling works in the field. They tend to be more general in nature in that the more specific a work is, the more limited its impact to the specific issue that it addresses (but that said, some narrowly focused works have had impact well beyond their focus).

Inventing the Future

The work in this era framed the foundation of policy debates for the era's to come. Computers in this era were number crunching machines that had computed military ordinances or engaged in accounting. Visionaries imagined the potential of what computer technology could become. Here, Douglas Englebart gives his famous "Mother of All Demos," demonstrating how computers can facilitate the knowledge worker. J.C.R. Licklider imagines the Man-Computer Symbiosis. In this era, technologists are imagining what what the Internet would become.

The Honeymoon - The Internet goes public - Exuberance and Utopianism, and Fear

The release of the public Internet by NSF was met by both exuberance and fear. Cyberlibertarians and utopians prophesied (much like others had done at the birth of other communications networks) that the Internet would herald a new era of understanding, dialog, and world peace. This era was characterized by a well established user base that had developed primarily utilizing the new medium for the exchange of ideas; business, government and commercial entertainment had yet to realize the potential of this new medium. Cyberlibertarians and cyberutopians established a dualism, establishing the Internet as a uniquely separate space from "meat" space. And as a unique and separate space, unreachable by legacy governments and legacy capitalist corruptions, the Internet had its own unique norms, governance, and commerce. This exuberance crescendoed with the dot-com bubble, ultimately leading to the dot-com burst.

The utopian exuberance was met by a counter-revolutionary distopian exuberance. To the counter-revolutionaries, the Internet would herald a new era of corruption of our youth and divorce. The counter-revolutionary voice peaked with a 1995 Time Magazine Cyberporn: Exclusive: A new study shows how pervasive and wild it really is. Can we protect our kids - and free speech? and the subsequent passage of the Communications Decency Act. This voice of fear would continue well into the next decade until it was pummeled by the 2002 Thornburgh Report and and the 2008 Berkman Center report on Enhancing Child Safety.

As the Internet moved from nascent toy to mainstream integration, the exuberance of both the utopians and the fear based distopians would be tempered. Entering were the Digital Natives, the first generation of youth who grew up their whole lives online. For them, both the positivism of the utopians and the fear-bating of the distopians were incoherent messages. Dr. Tanya Byron from the UK would arise as a voice condemning the fear-bating, proclaiming that we are raising our children in captivity.

Through-out this time, the FCC would grapple with the proper regulatory approach to nascent broadband Internet. During the cyberlibertarian era, the Internet was an unregulated "information service" offered over a common carriage, and was used by the FCC to drive competitive forces and bring down access charges.

In this era, the purpose of the network is moving beyond academic research and is becoming a marketplace of ideas.

Cyberlibertarianism / Utopian / Positivism

Anti-Utopian / Technophobia

There is a counter-revolutionary movement during this era that proclaims doom and the falling of the sky. This counter movement prophesied that the Internet marks the demise of our children, our culture, and all things good. The Internet, this movement believes - is something to be blocked and shut down.

Other Voices

There were also other voices during this era. Of note, Frank Easterbrook wrote a paper in which his argument could be summed as "What's all this nonsense, then!?!" To put it simply, Easterbrook challenged the notion that there is such a thing as "cyber"law - a unique law set to the "unique" Internet.

The Recurring Utopian Communications Myth

Every great innovation in communications has been met by an exuberance that it will bring about prosperity, world piece, greater education, and democracy. This was seen with the telegraph, telephone, radio, and television. The initial era, usually a monopoly patent or incubation era, gives way to an era of innovation and hyper competition as first movers make a land rush and stake claims. Hyper competition in turn gives way to market consolidation and market power. As market power grows, public policy concerns emerge. This is a cycle that has received extensive examination.

Realism: The Internet Goes Mainstream - The Internet Becomes Commercial

In many ways the era of realism is born out of a Hegelian synthesis between the utopian movement and the anti-utopian movement. Through the conflict between those that thought the Internet was an untouchable alternative reality that would bring about world peace, and those that thought that most of the content on the Internet was pornography and was the cause of divorce, war, and dandruff - came an era of realism where the Internet was a forced to be reckoned with.

In this era policy remains nascent. The idea that the Internet is unregulable is fading; but how and why the Internet should be regulated continues to be very much at play. Ecommerce has firmly established itself as a driving force with commercial entertainment following not behind. The Internet is transforming from the utopian marketplace of ideas, to superbowl ads about where to buy shoes online. We continued to navigate by feel, and policy debate continues to be filled with myth and hyperbole (although less so).

As the Internet went mainstream, it also went from dial-up service to broadband. Under FCC Chairman Michael Powell, the Internet would eviscerate traditional common carriage, embrace the Chicago School of Economics, and declare that all broadband Internet was an unregulated "information service."

In this era, the purpose of the network has expanded to include commerce, eGovernment, and entertainment.



Assimilation: The Internet Becomes Normal, and Powerful - The era of consolidation - The era of surveillance

This is the era where digital natives have become adults, and the Internet has been fully integrated in life. While there remains a minority of refusniks, for most, the Internet has become a device in their pocket that helps them coordinate their social lives, when they are going to meet, and - based on reviews - where they are going to go (along with how to get there and pictures and tweets along the way). It is an era where we realize how the Internet fits within the historical cycle of innovation, competition and then consolidation.

This is the era where the Internet masters are surpassing the legacy players. Google and Apple are emerging as powerhouses while Microsoft struggles to reinvent itself. Obama twice wins elections leveraging the power of a massive and sophisticated information technology campaign. Warfare and the fight against terrorism has fully embarked on cyberspace and big data.

The FCC continued to struggle with the appropriate policy approach to broadband Internet. With the elimination of common carriage, communications networks were free to discriminate, and discriminate they did. This led to Republican Chair. Kevin Martin introducing a preliminary network neutrality broadband principles. The new Obama administration made network neutrality a campaign promise, and FCC Chair Julius Genachowski implemented the Open Internet order as formal network neutrality principles, attempting to restore, to some decree, the anti-discriminatory principles of common carriage.