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Current Issues in Network Neutrality

Do we need network neutrality rules and, if yes, what should they be? After more than ten years, this question is still hotly debated around the world. Network neutrality rules limit the ability of Internet service providers to interfere with the applications, content and services on their networks; they allow users to decide how they want to use the Internet without interference from Internet service providers. In the US, the recent decision by the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in Verizon v. FCC has re-opened the debate. In December 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted the Open Internet Order, which enacted binding network neutrality rules for the first time. In January of this year, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the core provisions of the Open Internet Order - the rules against blocking and discrimination. As a result of this ruling, Internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T or Cox Cable that connect users to the Internet are now free to block any content, service or application they want. They can slow down selected applications, speed up others, or ask application or content providers like Netflix or Spotify to pay fees to reach their users. These practices would fundamentally change how we experience the Internet. In the wake of the Court's decision, policy makers, stakeholders and observers in the US are debating how to best ensure that the Internet remains open and free. In February, the Federal Communications Commission opened a new docket to collect public input on the best way to proceed. In Europe, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the member states are currently considering which approach to network neutrality they should take. The Brazilian Parliament is in the process of adopting network neutrality rules. This seminar aims to enable students to participate in the ongoing policy debates over network neutrality in the US and abroad. Class sessions will explore whether there is a need for network neutrality rules and, if yes, what kind of rules a network neutrality regime should include. For example, should network neutrality rules only ban blocking, or also discrimination? And if yes, what kind of differential treatment should be banned? Should Internet service providers be allowed to charge application or content providers for prioritized or otherwise enhanced access to their Internet service customers? How can we find network neutrality rules that allow network providers to manage their networks and that allow innovation in the network, while protecting the interests of users and application developers? Does competition in the market for Internet services remove the need for network neutrality rules? And finally, what is the best way to move forward in the US? Students will work in groups on written assignments that explore specific questions from the perspective of particular Internet companies or interest groups. Students are expected to attend all sessions of the class and participate in the class discussion. Special Instructions: Students may submit consent applications to enroll in the "Current Issues in Network Neutrality" seminar and the "Next Steps in Network Neutrality" policy lab practicum. Students concurrently accepted in the seminar and the policy practicum will research and write parts of white papers and comments to the Federal Communications Commission that will help policy makers assess the available options. Students will be required to attend the seminar and participate in the discussion, but will not do any of the written assignments for the seminar. Students enrolled in the seminar and the practicum will have the option to write papers for W, PW, or R credit in the practicum, with instructor consent. The class is open to law students and students from other parts of the university. It does not require any technical background. Elements used in grading: Class participation, attendance, written assignments. Writing (W) credit is for 3Ls only. Consent Application: To apply for this course, students must complete and e-mail the Consent Application Form available on the SLS Registrar's Office website (see Registration and Selection of Classes for Stanford Law Students) to the instructor. See Consent Application Form for submission deadline.


Instructors for this course (Past and Present)

Barbara van Schewick