Is Common Carriage Still Relevant?
2 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2013
Date Written: March 31, 2013
Communications is increasingly all-IP and flows over cellular or broadband networks. A great deal of it is mediated not just by traditional "carriers" but also by platforms such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter, or Google. Where does this leave the concept of common-carrier networks? Primary features of telephone common carriage included regulated monopoly where each customer was to be able to call every other customer at clearly defined and nondiscriminatory tariffs. In a time when a circuit-switched "call" is increasingly archaic and customers generally have choices, is common carriage merely an anachronism?
This panel will discuss how common carriage has been applied in the IP world and whether and how it should be applied in the future. Up to now, common carriage's most important modern equivalents have been "open access" and "network neutrality." These relate to two quite different relationships, the first between physical infrastructure and communications services, the second between service providers and content.
Open access, and the related concepts of "structural separation" and "unbundling" refer to the relationship between physical infrastructure and retail communications service providers. The preponderance of work on this topic suggests that open access inhibits both new, facilities-based investment in communications infrastructure and investment by incumbent telephone companies. That must be weighed against the benefit of increased entry and competition in retail services.
Network neutrality and related concepts of "openness" and "open systems" refer to communications service providers' relationship with content, including e-mail, small websites and major Internet forces like Facebook and Google. Whether different communications networks are compatible or nondiscriminatory has been a subject of significant debate. Whether this is a problem of monopoly or some other kind of market failure is also an important question.
Open access and non-discrimination are examples of a widespread and age-old idea that connections between “infrastructure” and “openness” are important to economic welfare under certain conditions. This is the context in which common carrier obligations developed. The panel will consider our common-carrier legacy in information and communication and address the many questions it raises today: Which of the principles behind common carriage should be preserved? Is the important context legal, economic, or technological, or some combination? Can common carrier principles best be served by the forces of market competition, government intervention, or a third way involving commons management?
Moderator: Carolyn Gideon
Panelists to be invited:
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