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

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When the U.S. Congress created the Federal Radio Commission in 1927, what we now call cyberspace was just "ether." Broadcasting had only begun to carry tinny human voices and music across the fields and prairies, while Sunday afternoon phone calls to Aunt Mabel snaked through wires below, courtesy of an army of operators who switched each circuit by hand. It didn't take long, though, for the wires and airwaves to fill up with untrammeled chatter, so much so that by 1934 after complaints by the Navy that ship to ...
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Overview


When the U.S. Congress created the Federal Radio Commission in 1927, what we now call cyberspace was just "ether." Broadcasting had only begun to carry tinny human voices and music across the fields and prairies, while Sunday afternoon phone calls to Aunt Mabel snaked through wires below, courtesy of an army of operators who switched each circuit by hand. It didn't take long, though, for the wires and airwaves to fill up with untrammeled chatter, so much so that by 1934 after complaints by the Navy that ship to shore communications had become hopelessly chaotic, and under the unproved but widely held belief that the broadcast spectrum was a finite natural resource all federal authority over electronic communications was forged into a new, powerful Federal Communications Commission. The amount of information traversing the airwaves has increased a million fold since 1927, but has the FCC changed along with the technology?
The answer, according to Peter W. Huber, in Law and Disorder in Cyberspace: Abolish the FCC and Let Common Law Rule the Telecosm, is an emphatic No. In this well researched, lively, even witty polemic, Huber recounts the history of telecommunications over the last century to argue that the FCC "should have been extinguished years ago." With scarcity of communications channels no longer an issue, and the virtual elimination of distinctions between carriage and broadcast,the Commission's anachronistic laws have no basis for existence, and have in fact impeded growth and progress to the tune of billions of lost dollars. Today, the "telecosm," that complex universe of invisible communications traffic, has expanded, supplanted, and subdivided itself many times over with each new technological breakthrough. Cable television, direct broadcast satellite, cell phones, the V chip, Caller ID, personal computers, and the Internet have transformed the world. Huber argues that large bureaucratic entities like the FCC fail to adjust to such rapidly changing technologies because they see their mission as maintaining the status quo, and that instead of preserving the rights of common citizens they actually favor rich monopolies. Addressing charged points of conflict such as free speech vs. censorship, privacy vs. right to know, and market vs. controlled pricing, Law and Disorder in Cyberspace energetically proposes that sensible national telecommunications policies evolve through common law--the accretion of decisions arrived at in specific cases where basic principles such as private property and fair business practice are challenged and upheld--and not through the top down, government imposition of inflexible regulatory mandates created in the vacuum of uninformed, theoretical disussion.
Given the heated climate on Capitol Hill surrounding debate over ways to reduce federal spending, Peter Huber's arguments are timely, urgent, and meticulously documented. Law and Disorder in Cyberspace is not only informative and entertaining, but will be one of those rare books that will influences public policy before the end of this decade.
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Editorial Reviews

Tom Bell
Law and Disorder in Cyberspace presents a thesis revolutionary in the truest sense of the word: it argues for overthrowing the existing corrupt order by returning to earlier, better, more fundamental values....Yet Law and Disorder in Cyberspace merits serious attention form scholars and policy wonks. Huber makes a strong case for abolishing the FCC and relying on common law to rule the telecosm. The flaws of Law and Disorder in Cyberspace make it not irrelevant, but all the more interesting.
Michigan Law Review, May 1999
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 outcomea 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.
Booknews
Huber (Manhattan Institute for Policy Research) recounts the history of telecommunications and its regulation over the last century, arguing that the FCC should have been abolished years ago because it has protected monopolies, over priced services, curtailed free speech, and undermined privacy. He proposes that sensible telecommunications policies evolve through common law and not through government imposition of inflexible regulatory mandates. For general readers. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Joseph P. Quinn
Law and Disorder in Cyberspace reads like a novel and is accessible to the law public. The book is an excellent primer to the law of telecommunications regulation, even though it lacks objectivity....Huber clearly describes issues at the heart of telecommunications regulation and injects lively debate into otherwise drab topics.
Bimonthly Review of Law Books
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195116144
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/28/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Lexile: 1140L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author: Peter W. Huber is a Senior Fellow at The Manhattan Institue, and Of Counsel for the law firm of Kellogg, Huber, Todd & Evans

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
1 Introduction 3
2 Technologies of Freedom 13
3 The Commission 24
4 Into the Labyrinth 35
5 Cable 51
6 The Airwaves Unbound 63
7 Wire Unbound 77
8 Busting Trusts 88
9 The Ascent of Competition 103
10 Pricing 117
11 Universal Service 130
12 Common Carriage 142
13 Reassembling the Pieces 155
14 Free Speech 165
15 Speech for Sale 178
16 Privacy 189
17 A People's Constitution 199
Notes 207
Index 259
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