Shortness of Vision: Regulatory Ambition in the Digital Age

63 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2005

See all articles by Susan P. Crawford

Susan P. Crawford

Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: July 2005


A worldwide battle over the future of the internet is under way. Telecommunications agencies around the world increasingly perceive the internet and the devices that connect to it as being under their regulatory control, and law enforcement authorities and the content industry are pushing them to exert this authority. I use two recent FCC case studies, the Broadcast Flag and the IP-Enabled Services rulemakings, to reveal the scope of the battle now playing out globally. Both of these proceedings present fascinating and troubling challenges to our shared online future, are being echoed around the world, and suggest that we are at a turning point in the brief history of the internet. Regulating information flows, usually the province of membranes created implicitly by individual attention and group decisions, is ordinarily an impossible task for governments. The US Congress has recognized this by (to date) acting with great restraint (with aberrational and expensive exceptions) when thinking about regulating the internet. The US should take the lead in recognizing that there is a fundamental mismatch between the scale of government actions online (large) and the complexity of the moves available to governments (low), on the one hand, and the scale of information flows online (fine) and their complexity (high), on the other. The only way to manipulate this online environment is to encourage the evolution of complex small-scale regulatory mechanisms that provide social order. We need to regulate the internet in a completely different way.

Suggested Citation

Crawford, Susan P., Shortness of Vision: Regulatory Ambition in the Digital Age (July 2005). Fordham Law Review, 2005, Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 102, Available at SSRN: or

Susan P. Crawford (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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