STP 301: Introduction to Information Policy

Instructor: Jean Camp, Asst. Professor of Public Policy, JFK School of Government

Offered Fall Semester, 2001

I am a copper wire slung in the air,
Slim against the sun I make not even a clear line of shadow.
Night and day I keep singing -- humming and thrumming; ...
Death and laughter of men and women passing through me,
carrier of your speech.

..............Carl Sandberg

How did such a network come to be? Technical and change and technology policy play critical roles in the development of the modern network. This class will provide a broad-based introduction to telecommunications and information policy.

The student should emerge with an understanding of:

Distance learning, e-development, napster, remote medical care, telephony, and a university education are all intertwined in that in each case the control of information is a core element. All of these previously discrete businesses of education are now converging in that they will be subject to the same information policies.

The relationship between policy and technological change underlies policies on ownership, culture, commerce, and telecommunications. The dot bubble and the dot bomb are the beginning of the information economy, not its culmination. Similar patterns of irrational exerburance, financial risks, and issues of jurisdiction resulted from the telegraph, the telephone, and even the printing press -- critical information technologies of their time.


The student should emerge with a mental map of the space of information policy questions and understand the overlap and borders between policy questions often considered distinct. This class is meant to provide a broad-based introduction to telecommunications and information policy.


The merging network society will alter our daily lives, as well as our self-images. The information processing capacity that is becoming available will enable further "revolutions" in biology, management, and policy.  Core questions in developing policies for a network society must address issues of identity, organization, economics and technology.

While no one can predict the changes which will be wrought in the emerging network society we can learn from the present and past, thus equipping ourselves with the tools to grapple with the future. We will address such diverse questions as: What are the policy implications of packet-switched vs. connection-oriented networks in terms of social good, national defense, and business practices? Is censorship on the Internet possible? What is the meaning of ownership in an information based economy? What is digital autonomy?

This course aims to define the range of options for selected policy problems, examine the protocols for embedded value decisions and policies, to evaluate how a new products (e.g. Freenet, Napster) might change these options. The core of this class is a continuing discussion of the interaction between governance and underlying information technologies. It seeks to address issues such as privacy, jurisdiction, universal service and censorship, as colored by the lens of the underlying technologies. How do these technologies change the set of policy options?

Distinguishing 301 in the World of Offerings:

This class does not address quantitative modeling as this is addressed in STP 308. The digital divide is the subject of classes taught by Professors Bowie and Norris. Professor Fountain teaches on organizations and IT; as does Professor Mechling. The issues of privacy and speech are no longer cores of this course, but rather are addressed in more depth STP 304. Prof. Holdren teaches more generally on technology policy; while Prof. Jasanoff teaches science studies. For the law and Cyberspace the classes of Jonathan Zittrain in the Law school are recommended. Professor Rabin, the world famous cryptographer, teaches on privacy and security in FAS. Professor Hal Abelson teaches on the implications of the Internet at MIT; while Professor Turkle teaches on electronic communities at the Media Lab. This class offers a traditional view of communications policy with an emphasis on government actions and policy choices; and as an aside illustrates why the Internet could have only happened in the United States. This class would make a solid companion to any of the courses listed above.

Required texts:

Readings will be made available electronically, or handed out in class.

Class structure & grading:

This is a twelve week class; each class will have one short assignment. All assignments are due before the beginning the class. The assignments will be linked off the page to enrich the class discussions. Assignments and an electronic discussion area will be provided on a virtual class page.

The combination of twelve weeks (no assignment the first week) of 1-2 pp essays will obviously be the equivalent of one thirty-some page paper. The more traditional class structure would require a thirty page paper at the end of class.

For each set of readings there will be an essay questions. The questions will be graded 1-10. The total grade will be divided by two, obviously, this provides more flexibility for grading and richer feedback. There are twenty assignments. Each of these will require answers from 250-300 words.