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Policy Practicum: Next Steps in Network Neutrality

Earlier this year, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet rules. This policy practicum will help policy makers assess the available options in the wake of the court's decision. In December 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted the Open Internet Order, which enacted binding network neutrality rules for the first time. 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 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. The decision combined two wins for the FCC with one decisive loss. According to the Court, the FCC has authority to regulate providers of broadband Internet access service under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the FCC's justification for the Open Internet Order is "reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." The no-blocking and non-discrimination rules, the Court found, however, violate the Communications Act's ban on imposing common carrier obligations on entities like Internet service providers that the FCC has not classified as telecommunications service providers under Title II of the Communications Act. 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 are debating how to best ensure that the Internet remains open and free. Policy makers essentially have three options: First, the FCC can preserve the Open Internet Rules by reclassifying Internet service as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act. Second, it can develop a different, narrower network neutrality regime under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act within the boundaries established by the Court of Appeal's decision. Finally, Congress or the FCC can adopt a new network neutrality regime, but only, in the case of the FCC, after reclassifying Internet service as a telecommunications service. In mid-February, the Federal Communications Commission opened a docket within which to consider how the Commission should proceed. Special Instructions: Upon consent of the instructor, students may choose enrollment Option 1 or Option 2: Option 1 (3 units) - Students who elect Option 1 will research and write parts of white papers and comments to the Federal Communications Commission that will help policy makers assess the available options. In special cases, students electing Option 1 may take the policy practicum for 2 units. Students interested in this option should indicate this on their application. Option 2 (1 to 2 units) - In order to elect Option 2, students must concurrently enroll (with consent of instructor) in the seminar component, "Current Issues in Network Neutrality" (2 units), which meets Thursdays from 4:15pm-6:15pm. Students in the policy practicum with the seminar component 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. Depending on the type of work in Option 1 or Option 2, students taking the policy practicum for two-units or more may receive professional writing (PW) or research (R) credit. Students must obtain the instructor's approval of their election to take the course for writing (PW or W) or research (R) credit. After the term begins, students accepted into the course can transfer from the W/PW writing section (01) into section (02), which meets the R requirement, with consent of the instructor. The class is open to law students and students from other parts of the university. It does not require any technical background. 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 instructors. See Consent Application Form for submission deadline.


Instructors for this course (Past and Present)

Barbara van Schewick