Is Uber a Common Carrier?
12 I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society 135 (2015)
22 Pages Posted: 12 May 2020
Date Written: 2015
The title of this essay may seem surprising. What does Uber, a transportation service considered an exemplar of the “sharing economy,” have to do with Internet regulation? What does common carriage, a regulatory construct most commonly associated with railroads in the nineteenth century and telephones in the twentieth century, have to do with Uber? Also, why does the answer even matter? These are precisely the sort of questions we should ponder if we truly care about the future of Internet regulation.
In such an environment, we must look at regulation differently. It makes little sense to enforce a strict separation between the cyber world and the physical world when firms increasingly straddle both. Moving beyond the rhetoric of regulatory obligations primarily as limitations to be overcome, the positive value of public policy to stimulate investment and innovation should be disinterred. Notions of common carriage and public utilities, once unmoored from their historical associations with sanctioned monopolies and rate regulation, can function as framing devices for the regulatory questions of the twenty years to come. Increasingly, their application will be to companies that operate over the network, rather than to just connectivity providers.
This essay explores a future of Internet regulation that draws on the valuable attributes of longstanding doctrines to craft a viable regime for the future.
Keywords: common carrier, internet policy, sharing economy
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