Will the Real Internet Please Stand Up: An Attorney's Quest to Define the Internet

Telecommunications Policy Research Conference 2002

38 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2004

Date Written: March 2004


We start with a problem. The problem is that so frequently while discussing legal or regulatory issues related to The Internet, we have no idea what it is that we are talking about.

Countless courts, legislative bodies, and packs of pundits have sought to produce definitions of The Internet. Their attempts have at times been poor and misconstrued. Many definitions do not agree. Some talk about applications. Some talk about packets. And others are simply too vague to be of value. And yet, not comprehending the object of the policy, the lawyers go merrily forward constructing on faulty foundations new, imaginative, and perhaps misdirected policy and law.

Is it possible to formulate a good definition of The Internet? Is The Internet the technical specs that currently make up The Internet? Is The Internet based on the experience of The Internet by the user? Can a definition of The Internet reflect its robust and flexible nature, in all of its diversity, as it exists today and what it might become tomorrow? Is there something wrong with this simple question about the definition of The Internet that makes it so hard to answer?

This paper sets forth on a modest quest: make fun of previous legal definitions of The Internet; attempt to provide a foundational exploration of what a good understanding of The Internet might look like; and finally, look at why none of this (usually) should or does matter.

A response to this modest quest might be that what The Internet is depends upon why you are asking. There may be a degree of truth to this. The cubist will argue that there are multiple perspectives of a horse, all of which are valid. The modernist will argue that how we perceive the horse depends on where we ourselves stand. Nevertheless, there is a horse there. While there may be multiple perspectives of a horse, looking at the bird sitting on the horse is not looking at the horse. Part of the mission here is to say to the legal community, stop looking at the bird.

Keywords: Cyberspace Law, Internet, Internet Regulation, Definitions, Talkie Toaster

JEL Classification: L96, K23, L86, O38

Suggested Citation

Cannon, Robert, Will the Real Internet Please Stand Up: An Attorney's Quest to Define the Internet (March 2004). Telecommunications Policy Research Conference 2002, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=516603 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.516603

Robert Cannon (Contact Author)

Washington Internet Project ( email )

2358 N. Vernon Street
Arlington, VA 22207
United States
703-527-6631 (Phone)

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