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Spotlight on Scholarship: James B. Speta on Telecommunications Law

February 28, 2019

Professor James B. Speta, Harry R. Horrow Professor in International Law, is a prominent scholar of telecommunications law. The majority of his research focuses on the regulation of broadband infrastructure and the interaction of that regulation with content distribution and other business models necessary for the Internet to thrive.

Speta takes the position that communications markets require some continued oversight by a specialized regulator, but one with more reliance on competition-law reasoning. In 2000, he published his first piece as a full-time academic: “Handicapping the Race for the Last Mile:  A Critique of Open Access Rules for Broadband Platforms.” The broadband Internet was just beginning to mature, and “Handicapping” was one of the first two articles on whether the Federal Communications Commission ought to impose nondiscrimination obligations on broadband providers. (The other, published nearly simultaneously, was by Mark Lemley and Lawrence Lessig, two already well established scholars; Lessig was one of the founders of cyberlaw. Speta took the position that extensive FCC regulation was not necessary, while Lemley and Lessig argued for such regulation.) 

Over the years, Speta has written on the many aspects of “net neutrality,” the issue that has dominated communications policy for nearly 20 years (and will continue to do so).  He debated whether such regulation was necessary, whether the FCC had sufficient statutory authority, whether antitrust provided a better approach (and how antitrust interacts with sector-specific telecoms regulation), and whether the FCC’s regulations would be effective. He also asked a larger question: does common carrier regulation, which once governed not only telecoms but most transportation and utility industries, have a place in the Internet era? Given the economic and noneconomic importance of Internet communications, Speta believes that the common carrier model has strong relevance when tempered with competition law analysis. He has written from the same perspective on other important infrastructure issues, such as spectrum policy, right of way usage, and managed services.

In addition to his many scholarly articles on telecommunications law, he is the co-author (with Stuart Benjamin of Duke Law School) of a leading casebook, Internet and Telecommunication Regulation. The casebook bridges the history of telecoms to the cutting-edge issues of regulating Google, Facebook, and other Internet platforms, and covers the difficult regulatory challenges this new world presents.