Book closed

The book for the fall semester is now closed. It was brutal but I’m finally done with it.

I turned in my Mass Communications paper at 4:55 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 10), with five minutes to spare. I had intended to finish it a few days earlier but was knocked out with the flu last weekend. Who am I kidding? I would have still turned it in Thursday afternoon, regardless. 😉

My paper argues for Congress and federal regulators to scrap the current communications regulatory regime.

Traditionally, the federal government has taken a silo approach to communications regulation. In other words, each mode of communication is considered and regulated differently.

Think of grain silos rising above the plains like a row of overseers. Each silo holds and isolates a specific type of grain, protects it from the elements, and prevents mixing with the other grains. Similarly, traditional communications regulatory silos isolate individual forms of communication â?? as well as their respective sets of regulations â?? from each other. There are silos for broadcast television and radio, cable television, satellite television, cable Internet access, digital subscriber line (DSL) Internet access over a copper telephone line, telephone service over a copper line, and so forth.

As a result of the silo approach, each mode of communication is controlled by a separate set of regulations, even those that carry the same, exact content. For example, broadcast television and cable television both show audio/visual content on a television set, yet each is governed by different content regulations. Those content regulations in turn receive different standards of review by courts, which allow the government to continue its disparate treatment of the two. That’s why swearing is more allowable on cable television but not on broadcast television.

In the same way, the current regulatory approach also isolates and provides differential treatment of communications services using the same physical conduit. For example, one set of regulations govern cable television while a separate set of regulations govern cable Internet access, even though both media forms utilize the same physical cables.

In contrast to the silo approach to regulations, a layered regulatory framework would raze distinctions between the types of communication and instead focus on the functional portions of a communications network used to transfer content. Such a layered regulatory approach would treat similar content similarly, independent of source, service type, and destination. The model that works best contains four layers: content, application, logical, and physical. If you need a visual analogy, think of the layers stacked like pancakes.

By creating regulatory layers based on functions of a network, the regulatory process would better take into consideration the similarities and differences between the different modes of communication and the technology platforms that underlie each and thus eliminate the disparate â??siloâ? regulations that arbitrarily govern identical content differently.

The argument is very wonkish. If you’re geek enough and wish to read all 39 pages, including footnotes, please do. Razing the Silos: An Argument For A Layered Communications Regulatory Framework (PDF). It is just a term paper, but I intend to keep working on it over the next several years and eventually submit it to law journals for publication.

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