The Ghost of Telecommunications Past

When the canon for the field of information law and policy is developed, Paul Starr’s The Creation of the Media will enjoy a hallowed place in it. Like Lawrence Lessig’s masterful Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Starr’s tour de force explains how policymakers have made a series of “constitutive choices” about how to regulate different information technologies that helped to shape the basic architecture of the information age. In so doing, Starr displays the same literary and analytical skill he used in writing the Pulitzer Prizewinning The Social Transformation of American Medicine, the firsthand experience he gained as one of the founders of The American Prospect (a successful left-leaning policy magazine), and, presumably, the policy savvy gained from years as a Clinton White House aide. In short, Starr’s The Creation of the Media explains how the different segments of the information industries – newspapers, the telegraph, the telephone network, and the radio industry – emerged into their modern form. In so doing, it weaves together a compelling narrative of how intellectual property policy (namely copyright and patent law), First Amendment law, antitrust law. telecommunications regulation, privacy protection, and government spending policy all came together to form a coherent and distinctive information policy. To underscore its point, the book draws several pointed contrasts with European countries and Canada, which made fundamentally different policy choices from the United States that, in turn, gave rise to very different market structures. Finally, because Starr’s historical account ends in 1941, his book leaves open for interpretation how to apply the various insights it offers to modem policymakers.