Protocol Layering and Internet Policy

66 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2013

See all articles by Christopher S. Yoo

Christopher S. Yoo

University of Pennsylvania Law School; University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication; University of Pennsylvania - School of Engineering and Applied Science

Date Written: 2013

Abstract

An architectural principle known as protocol layering is widely recognized as one of the foundations of the Internet’s success. In addition, some scholars and industry participants have urged using the layers model as a central organizing principle for regulatory policy. Despite its importance as a concept, a comprehensive analysis of protocol layering and its implications for Internet policy has yet to appear in the literature. This Article attempts to correct this omission. It begins with a detailed description of the way the five-layer model developed, introducing protocol layering’s central features, such as the division of functions across layers, information hiding, peer communication, and encapsulation. It then discusses the model’s implications for whether particular functions are performed at the edge or in the core of the network, contrasts the model with the way that layering has been depicted in the legal commentary, and analyzes attempts to use layering as a basis for competition policy. Next the Article identifies certain emerging features of the Internet that are placing pressure on the layered model, including WiFi routers, network-based security, modern routing protocols, and wireless broadband. These developments illustrate how every architecture inevitably limits functionality as well as the architecture’s ability to evolve over time in response to changes in the technological and economic environment. Together these considerations support adopting a more dynamic perspective on layering and caution against using layers as a basis for a regulatory mandate for fear of cementing the existing technology into place in a way that prevents the network from innovating and evolving in response to shifts in the underlying technology and consumer demand.

Keywords: Internet law and regulation, emerging technologies, public policy, regulatory framework, protocol layering, ossification, innovation

JEL Classification: K23, L86, O38

Suggested Citation

Yoo, Christopher S., Protocol Layering and Internet Policy (2013). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 161, P. 1707, 2013; 2014 TPRC Conference Paper; U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 13-18. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2278451

Christopher S. Yoo (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6204
United States
(215) 746-8772 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.upenn.edu/faculty/csyoo/

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication ( email )

3620 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6220
United States
(215) 746-8772 (Phone)

University of Pennsylvania - School of Engineering and Applied Science ( email )

3330 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6309
United States
(215) 746-8772 (Phone)

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