CFP96 Plenary Session

ISPs: Common Carriers or the Ultimately Responsible Parties?

Moderator:Jeff Ubois
Panelists: Brian Ek
Bruce Fancher
Ed Cavazos
Daniel Dern
Simson Garfinkel
Organizer:Judi Clark

Internet service providers (ISPs), large and small, corporate and back-bedroom startup, are the backbone of the Net, but does that make them culpable for everything that flows over the Internet, in every country with a TCP/IP network connection? That's the question every business with a network connection has to answer these days. Yet there's very little firm information for ISPs to use when making a decision. It is not clear whether an ISP will be treated as a common carrier or as a publisher, held to the attendant libel laws and community standards under which publishers operate. These challenges are compounded by an unclear regulatory environment, by conflicting legal precedents concerning liability for transmission of copyrighted and libelous material, and by the enactment of the Communications Decency Act.

How do the ISPs view these challenges, what regulatory and legal environments do they advocate, and are their expectations fair and reasonable? Many of the largest telecommunications firms with plans to become ISPs try never to come onto regulators' radar, so can they effectively lobby for rights on behalf of the online world? Can corporate ISPs be activists for free expression while carrying out their legislative agendas on behalf of shareholders? This panel will look at the choices and responsibilities ISPs face in the rapidly evolving world of online communications.

Moderator: Jeff Ubois is a contributor/editor at Digital Media, Internet World, Macweek, Midrange Systems, and Asiaweek, as well as other publications. He is also director of the WebArchive 96 project at the Internet Archive, a joint effort with the Smithsonian to document the election as it happens on the Web; the Internet Archive is working to archive publically available information on the net. Jeff has been writing about the Internet since 1987, and attending CFPs since 1992. Contact: / (510) 527-2707


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Last updated March 1, 1996