The Internet and the Project of Communications Law

Required reading for anyone who reads this blog:

ViolaSusan P. Crawford The Internet and the Project of Communications Law 55 UCLA L Rev 359 (2007) (pdf)

Abstract: The Internet offers the potential for economic growth stemming from online human communications. But recent industry and government actions have disfavored these possibilities by treating the Internet like a content-delivery supply chain. This Article recommends that the Internet be at the center of communications policy. It criticizes the nearly exclusive focus of communications policy on the private economic success of infrastructure and application providers, and suggests that communications policy be focused on facilitating communications themselves.

More particularly, she argues strongly in favour of encouraging diversity as a significant element of communications policy:

The key organizing principle for communications law must be to support the emergence of diverse new ideas online as this is where economic growth for society as a whole will come from. This form of diversity support is not the same as the kind of quota-driven, artificial diversity that has been used to force broadcast content regulation to reflect minority viewpoints. Rather, this kind of online diversity stems from allowing the end-to-end, content-neutral, layer-independent functions of the Internet to flourish, and allowing groups and human attention to pick and choose from among the ideas presented online, enabling good ideas to persist and replicate.

And, of course, she argues strongly in favour of network neutrality and strongly against allowing providers to treat some users of the network differently, and concludes that, “given that economic growth is created by the emergence of new ideas, the proper role of government should be to support the diversity of complex social interactions online”. And she ends with a clarion call that should resonate across the net:

We need to reframe communications law to support what matters. What matters are communications themselves, and the increasingly diverse and valuable ideas they produce.

It is a superb piece, I loved it, and I think that it is destined to become a classic. This is unsurprising. Susan Crawford is one of cyberlaw‘s most incisive commentators; she blogs here; and is a member of the board of directors of ICANN. In her day job, she is Associate Professor, Cardozo School of Law, and for this academic year is Visiting Professor, University of Michigan Law School (Fall 2007) and Visiting Professor, Yale Law School (Spring 2008). Oh, and she is no mean violist either.