Regulating the Internet
Glen O. Robinson
University of Virginia School of Law
The Internet is one of the most remarkable products of the 20th century and not least among the remarkable things about it is that it is the only electronic medium not regulated. Yet. Despite a lot of rhetorical assurances of elected public officials and unelected bureaucrats, the unregulated character of the Net will change; it is just a matter of how and how soon.
The focus of this brief essay is on classic forms of regulation. The Internet is now somewhere between two heavily regulated media--mass media and telecommunications media. However, it is a commonplace that these other media are converging, and it appears they are converging around the Internet technology and architecture. As this happens, as the Internet becomes both our telephone and our television, it naturally invites questions about whether and how traditional regulatory policies will be extended to Internet communications.
The current posture of Internet exceptionalism in regard to regulatory policies does not appear to be sustainable. The pressures to regulate are particularly prominent in the economic area. Issues such as open access to broadband facilities (being pressed by independent ISPs) and local access charges (being pressed by local telephone companies) are creating a climate for regulation. In part this simply follows the old siren song of maintaining a level playing field between new and old media--a song that always seems to result in leveling up rather than leveling down the (regulated) playing field. If this happens again here (I predict it will), we will have lost one of the most important charms of the Internet--the chance to use it as an occasion for rethinking some of the old regulatory models.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 10
JEL Classification: K23Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: January 25, 2000
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