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Law and Disorder in Cyberspace: Abolish the FCC and Let Common Law Rule the Telecosm

2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195116144
ISBN-10: 0195116143
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Editorial Reviews Review

Has the Federal Communications Commission's capability to coordinate and manage technology kept up with the astonishing universe of computers and communications links that have sprouted in our midst? Peter Huber, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, doesn't think so. In this polemic, Huber traces the history of U.S. telecommunications and regulation in this century. His conclusion: the FCC should have been closed down long ago.

In fact, Huber doesn't believe the FCC should have been created in the first place. It all began with President Herbert Hoover's love of order. Hoover, being an engineer who despised messy solutions when a neat one was possible, didn't want the broadcasting business to go through the chaos that the telephone industry had endured before its regulation. Rather than letting conflicts be resolved gradually through the courts, Hoover had order imposed almost from the start by nationalizing the airwaves and putting them under the protection of the FCC. Huber maintains that a free-market solution, complete with long court battles and a decade or two of inconvenience, would have produced a far better outcome in the long run.

According to Huber, the FCC tends to protect monopolies, blocks streamlined use of the airwaves, aids in censoring free speech, dilutes copyright, lessens privacy, and weakens common carriers. Huber isn't pulling any punches here. In part he blames the large bureaucracy of a government agency and the inherent mindset involved. The FCC, Huber argues, just doesn't respond to rapidly changing technology efficiently and quickly.

Huber prefers to see telecommunications policies develop through common law, letting precedent settle issues of private property, anticompetitive business practices, and privacy. He's emphatically against a top-down infusion of inflexible mandates that he believes just aren't doing the job. His book isn't meant to be a mandate either but rather to prod public policy debates and to get us thinking about how we're going to manage communications resources in the next century. --Elizabeth Lewis

From Library Journal

This is less a book about cyberspace, a term synonymous with the Internet, than it is about the Communications Act of 1934 as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Having gone to print before Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, it offers no discussion of the recent Communications Decency Act, although judging from this title, the author was undoubtedly pleased with the outcome?a triumph of the courts over legislation designed to further empower the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The page adjacent to the title page even states emphatically, "Abolish the FCC." Huber, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, paints an interesting history of communications regulation from 1927, with the advent of the Federal Radio Commission, through the 1996 amendments. He effectively portrays the FCC decision-making process as mayhem rather than regulation. His FCC case discussions are excellent and thoroughly documented. Recommended for graduate collections.?Alan Schroeder, Chapman Univ. Sch. of Law, Huntington Beach, Cal.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 2, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195116143
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195116144
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.2 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #307,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Brito on June 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
On the recommendation of a good friend, I read this book to bone up for my internship at the FCC. Peter Huber presents a good history of the FCC, and why it never should have existed. His thesis is simple and compelling: of all things, communications technology doesn't need top-down regulation, but rather the evolutionary flexibility of the common law.
He has a point. Look at the success of an open standard like Wi-Fi. Allow that slice of the spectrum to be free and the free-market will add value to it. But hey, the FCC ain't going nowhere any time soon. The best we can hope for is as much un- and deregulation as possible.
I recommend this very well researched and passionately written book!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A dozen years after its publication, Peter Huber's "Law and Disorder in Cyberspace" remains relevant and as insightful as when it was first released.

The book takes the reader on a quick trip through federal regulation of telephone, broadcast, and cable. It's no warm, fuzzy tale. Huber's retelling of how regulations stifled investment, chilled innovation, and delayed deployment in new media and communications technologies is positively cringe-inducing. The saga runs from the federal government's first forays in broadcast licensing on down to the demise of the "fairness doctrine" in broadcast regulation. There is a run-down of the federal monopoly regulatory regime for telephone service, from Carterfone and Hush-a-Phone, to the Computer Inquiry rules, on to the consent decree in Judge Harold Greene's Court. (Importantly, this book takes into account the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which brought an end to the decree.) A tour of cable regulation shows how that disruptive technology disrupted pre-existing regulatory models--though that didn't stop regulators from asserting jurisdiction over it in order to protect broadcasting.

A larger take on regulation also comes into view in this book. One theme to emerge is the unfortunate imposition of pre-existing regulatory categories (designed for older technologies) on newer technologies. Another is the extent to which public officials went out of their way to protect "free" ad-supported broadcasting or local broadcasting from competing technologies and offerings.

What still stands out most in "Law and Disorder in Cyberspace" is the book's provocative thesis: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should be abolished and "telecosm" regulation should be replaced by common law.
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