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Telecommunications Law in the Internet Age

Author: Sharon K. Black
Publisher: San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann, 2001
Review Published: November 2003

 REVIEW 1: David R. Dewberry

Telecommunications Law in the Internet Age presents just what the aptly title states. Written by Sharon K. Black, an attorney in Boulder, Colorado, the book is 501 pages and includes ten chapters and ten indices. The chapters are divided into three main sections. Part one deals with the "New Competitive Telecommunications Environment," and highlights the legal and regulatory issues of telecommunications policy. Part two explains "Embracing the Expanded Global Telecommunications Market," and focuses on international matters. The third portion clarifies "Legal Issues with Advanced Technologies," and discusses the social impact on users. An initial chapter gives a cursory introduction to the context of the book. Each chapter includes well written introductions and conclusions that package the dense amount of information in the chapters. Also, each chapter is clearly and well divided into codified subsections that allow the reader quick and easy access to information. From the standpoint of history, the work starts at the telegraph and rise of trusts to obscenity, violence, and fraud on the Internet.

It presents an analysis of Internet legislation in such a manner that allows any reader to understand. Although the book appears most helpful to undergraduates, graduates, or law students, the author's intended audience is any person "interested in knowing his or her rights, obligations, and legal protections" (xvii). Also, the work, as described by the author, focuses on providing more of Internet legislation and less of telephone and cable communication resulting from the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Black, after a narrative history of early telecommunication, begins with an explanation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Focusing on the highlights of the legislation, Black's synopsis of the act provides the reader the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the act. Next, outstanding issues such as local number portability, universal service, access, and reciprocal compensation are discussed. Such issues remained unresolved at the time of publication and are so to this day. In such a dynamic context of Internet legislation, Black admits that it is difficult to keep such a work current; nevertheless, she provides up to date information regarding developments up until publication.

In an effort to steer clear of duplicating what has been said in other telecommunication books, Black addresses state and international matters. After discussing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the work focuses on how it relates to international issues in telecommunication policy. Initially, Black offers the background knowledge for understanding the global issues in the context of telecommunications. Each issue is described in terms of history and component. Examples of such are the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Global Information Infrastructure (GII), World Trade Organization (GTO), and the General Agreement on Trade (GAT).

A relatively short seventh chapter offers much information regarding copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secret law, which provides much needed information for telecommunicaters. Applying knowledge to practice, Black includes a Model License for the reader.

The third major section of the book encompasses legal and social issues in telecommunication policy. The first chapter of the section gives three examples. The first appears to be hypothetical, but the subsequent examples show how big of a problem privacy can be in the Internet age. Black discusses the progeny of early court decisions and laws that explain what privacy is and where it is to be expected since its appearance in a 1890 edition of the Harvard Law Review by Harvard Law Professors Warren and Brandeis (the latter would become a Supreme Court Justice). Following sections of the book offer explanations of privacy in regards to government databases, banking and financial matters, and intrusion into private or protected networks. The chapter also includes a subsection on where to find up to date information on privacy protection. At the time of review each was checked and all were found to be current, valid links. Black acknowledges that the current controversies of privacy were never dreamt about in the minds of the constitutional framers and that the only thing that could be of substantial benefit to protect individual's privacy stems from the technology that created the intrusion.

Chapter 9 discusses encryption as a means of protecting individuals privacy online. Detailing the forms of encryption, Blacks explains the fundamental techniques involved in encryption such as substitution, transposition, concealment, device, and mathematical codes. She uses both past examples, such as the Spartans hiding messages using similar sized sticks to decode messages, and modern examples of binary codes used in computers. Next. the work focuses on the history of encryption within the history of the United States starting from 1930s advent of the need of encryption outside the realms of national security. The subsequent sections offer an explanation and comparison of public and private cryptosystems. In keeping with the book's intentions of detailing not just U.S. telecommunications issues, Black elaborates on International encryption view on encryption and adds a section of the U.S.'s reaction to those positions.

The final chapter offers a view of many unresolved legal issues with the Internet. Although much of the book carries a detailed description of telecommunications policy that would appear to be curtailed to a lawyer or a telecommunication scholar, the final chapter offers information to a more general readership. Some extremely dynamic and volatile issues -- Internet commerce, copyright and trademark issues with domain names, responsibility of ISPs and computer operators, fraud, and online obscenity and violence, for example -- continue, of course, to evolve after the publication of the book. The work, obviously, does not discuss information and new legislation that has presented itself post publication, but the book does provide a enormous amount of useful and relatively up-to-date information.

The hardcover edition of the book has a striking resemblance to a high school or undergraduate textbook. The sheer amount of information within the text is truly overwhelming even for graduate or doctoral student. Law students will find the text an excellent subsidiary source for the overall picture of how certain policies and court decisions operate in the myriad of telecommunication legislation policies. Each chapter has well written introductions and conclusions that create a flow from chapter to chapter and set the stage for the information within each chapter. The chapters do not flow as easy as other telecommunication texts, but the volumes of information are easily digestible in codified sections. If you want to know a great deal about telecommunication policy read the book cover to cover; however, if you just want to know about the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, you can look in section 8.6.1. Each major section includes a darkened section that is visible when the book is closed to facilitate quick referencing. This book is not for casual learning of telecommunication law. It is intended for gaining an understanding of law free from opinionated verbose scholarship. It may not be suited for a backpack, but it is a necessity on the bookshelves of scholars in the field of telecommunications law, especially in, as the title states, the Internet age.

David R. Dewberry:
David R. Dewberry is finishing up his MA in communication at the University of Arkansas. His research interests include Free Expression and Communication and the Law. He received his bachelor's in communication with a minor in Classics (Latin), also from the University of Arkansas.  <ddewber@uark.edu>

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