Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

All Those Tubes

Richard D. Taylor, Pennsylvania State University, has published Metaphor as Policy: The Case of the 'Broadband Ecosystem'. Here is the abstract.

From the early days of the Internet, metaphors have been important in shaping how we think about it. The “Information Superhighway”; the “Web”; the “cloud”; “Tubes”, “Cyberspace”, among others. Such appellations may seem trivial, even jokey, but metaphors actually can pow-erfully influence how we think about something. Metaphors imply regulatory policies. If we say the Internet is like the electrical grid, that’s one thing; if we say it’s like a public bazaar that may have very different results in the way we think about its regulation.

A currently popular, perhaps even dominant, metaphor is that of the “ecosystem”, appearing var-iously as the ICT ecosystem, the Internet ecosystem and the broadband ecosystem. They all convey the image of things that are interconnected and interdependent. The embrace a world where multiple formerly independent industrial sectors are overlapping, at least at the margins, creating new “platforms” of good and services to be provided to consumers. What are often un-der-recognized are the long-term implications of adopting this metaphor.

It is now 18 years since the passage of the ’96 Telecommunications Act. It was a step in the long process of competition and consolidation, but hardly an endpoint. The “Internet” is mentioned only in two areas (e-rate and child protection). It could be argued its drafters were shortsighted, but it would have required a bold imagination to foresee how things have evolved since then. So what sort of policy/regulatory regime will be appropriate for 18 years into the future, 2032? Or even for 2025? We need to be prepared for substantial – but foreseeable – major changes.

The paper will build on the “broadband ecosystem” metaphor, looking forward to a time when the “Intercloud” and inter-cloud networks step into the dominant role; when there is no need to “log in” as the network increasingly becomes the environment in which we move; in which the dominant part of the broadband network is not the public Internet but private and public clouds; and in which artificial intelligence and big data combine to create an overall shared data envi-ronment for which we do not yet even have a common name.

Noting that the broadband network is much more than just the “Internet”, the paper will identify the key, forward looking policy issues: ecosystem/platforms vs. terminating access; scope of the broadband ecosystem; focus on innovation or competition; social interventions; and jurisdictional basis, scope and locus of regulatory authority. It will then review three primary forward-looking policy models (the platform model, the protocol layers model, and the policy space model) and evaluate how well they address these policy issues and lay the groundwork for the information environment of the future.


Download the paper from SSRN at the link.

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