Legacy Regulation of Electronic
Communication network regulation in the United States has a long and complex history. A fundamental reason for this is that networks are, by their very nature, constantly in motion. The rate of convergence between and among these technologies has occurred so quickly that lawmakers have been unable to keep pace. Indeed, convergence has been so rapid and so efficient that we find ourselves now with an allbut unregulated virtual network—the Internet—that is made up of, and relies upon, the very communication network technologies for which lawmakers have been devising complex regulatory schemes over the past century.
The 1934 Communications Act (1934 Act) sealed the role of the federal government in assuring that wired media (i.e. telephone networks) and broadcasting serve the public interest by codifying principles that enhanced the public’s rights of access to the medium or to receive certain types of information. Later, legislation amending the 1934 Act to govern cable video sought to ensure that medium developed with the interest of the public in mind, with mixed results.1 Over the last 75 years, federal law and policy makers have continually been interpreting what the public interest means and how wired media serve that interest. In that same vein, regulation of the most contemporary of these media, broadband Internet, remains an open, and fiercely debated, issue.
1 See Patricia Aufderheide, Cable Television and the Public Interest, 42 Journal of Communication 1 (1992).