Reflections on Network Transitions and Social Contracts for a Broadband Era
13 Colorado Technology Law Journal 101 (2014)
26 Pages Posted: 12 May 2020
Date Written: 2014
We are now fairly far along in the evolution from analog to digital communications systems, and the grand convergence into a network of networks based around the technologies of the Internet. It is important to survey and consider the facts on the ground. It is even more important, though, to step back and consider the societal goals that animate communications policy in the first place. Standing behind the particulars of regulation is a set of broad, if imperfectly defined, normative commitments. Those commitments should not evaporate based on the configuration of the market at any given time. The means of achieving them, by contrast, cannot remain unchanged when the context changes.
The difference between regulated communications markets and the bulk of the economy is frequently described in terms of social contracts. Social contract thinking provides a convenient way to explain why companies are subjected to obligations above and beyond the generic requirements of antitrust and consumer protection. Such language in telecommunications is especially common during periods of transition. The term “social contract,” however, is often thrown around in these contexts with little attention to its origins or meaning. In considering the transition to a digital broadband environment for virtually all communications and media services, social contracts provide a useful touchpoint.
Keywords: communications policy, telecommunications, social contract, universal service
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