OSP Working Paper 30 (Aug 1998) discusses several difficult legal and policy issues that arise because Internet-based services do not fit easily into the longstanding classifications for communications services under federal law or FCC regulations. Against these underlying category difficulties, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 ("the 1996 Act") radically restructured the regulatory landscape for the provision of local telephone communications services, attaching significant new consequences to statutory definitions derived from the technologies of the past.
While the Internet arguably represents one form of technological and service convergence, the pro-competitive, de-regulatory program of the 1996 Act depends upon the viability of distinct regulatory categories for services, facilities, and service providers to establish the rights and obligations of carriers as competition is introduced to formerly monopoly-based markets. Integrated digital service offerings, such as those provided over the Internet, present fundamental problems to a regulatory framework dependent upon technological distinctions reflecting delivery of analog communications services.
Esbin therefore intends for her paper to stimulate discussion and critical comment on these significant issues of regulatory classification and their consequences. She concludes, without advocating particular outcomes, that regulatory classification must be done in light of agreed upon policy objectives.