See the summary as a PDF here, or read it below.
In the process of determining our value(s) in 2025, it is important to look at our tools of communication. The interactions, platforms, and economies through which we disseminate and consume information affects how that information shapes us. One lens through which we can better understand these dynamics is regulation—both by governments and other actors—which both influences and reflects the values of those it controls.
This summary of the control of media and communications tools investigates the benefits and disadvantages of regulation, particularly in the context of the internet. It follows the current framework of regulation from its origin as it has responded to and affected companies and consumers in the industry, ultimately pointing to the question, should there be more or less regulation of our primary communications tool, the internet?
History of Telecommunications Regulation
In order to approach current regulations in the U.S., we first have to go back to the 1934 Communications Act, which established the frameworks that still govern telecommunications today. Signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the law established three main structures and ideas:
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the primary federal overseer of communications services
- Universal service, the idea that fast and affordable communications technologies should be available and the means through which it can be implemented
- Common carrier, a company designated to provide goods or services to the public without discrimination.
To achieve the principle of universal service, the act named Bell/AT&T, already a monopoly in phone systems throughout the U.S., a common carrier service. The government would support the company in its control and expansion of telephone infrastructure, and AT&T would have to submit to regulation. It would function as a natural monopoly, a result of the high cost and infrastructural challenges of creating a telephone network.
In the decades following 1934, the company not only maintained control of the local phone service it had been tasked to provide, but it also expanded its control into adjacent markets, including the long-distance market and physical handsets (at one point, every AT&T customer got a phone from the AT&T subsidiary, Western Electric). There were a few notable exceptions to the company’s unhindered control; in 1968, for example, after Thomas Carter pursued his right to plug his cordless Carterfone into the AT&T system in court, the FCC ruled that the company had to allow third-party technologies onto its network. This paved the way for later devices, including the modems that later brought internet into U.S. homes. Finally, in 1984, the government forced AT&T to break up into seven regional “baby bells,” allowing competitors to enter the market, also as common carriers.
In 1996, when Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act that overhauled the 1934 law, the government promoted competition by favoring relaxed regulation. The internet—present for the first time in a major communications act—developed against this backdrop as an “information service,” a service that provides data and information.
Internet Regulation (or Lack Thereof)
According to Tim Berners-Lee, the Internet “offered a new way forward” (Lee, National Affairs). Without heavy regulation, the internet developed in a structure that kept the companies responsible for delivering it to the public in check. It is comprised of internet service providers (ISPs) on one end, the companies that provide internet access to consumers (mostly cable and phone companies); content providers on the other end that deliver the media we consume on the internet; and the internet “backbone”—the physical networks that transport data—in between. With enough competition in each sector, the internet grew with little government intervention.
The structure, though, has expanded and consolidated on the both ends. On the ISP side, most of the Baby Bells that came out of the 1984 ruling to break up AT&T have reconsolidated, and the Justice Department’s suit to block AT&T’s merger with Time Warner, another cable and internet giant, has just gone to trial (four years after a similar deal between Comcast and Time Warner fell through).
In 2014, the potential dangers of this power imbalance emerged when many Netflix users, accounting for about 30% of internet traffic at certain times, noticed slower streaming. Comcast, tasked with delivering this high-bandwidth content on its network—content that competed with its own cable services—demanded direct payment from Netflix for the added strain. Netflix, faced with Comcast’s huge share of internet customers (56% of the broadband market by early 2015, according to Ars Technica), struck a deal. Many opposed this new dynamic, believing that it violated the principle of network neutrality, that ISPs treat all content on the internet the same, which the FCC had adopted as a standard starting in 2005 to “preserve and promote the vibrant and open character of the Internet” (Federal Communications Commission, FCC 05-151).
The content delivery side has followed a similar trajectory. As Matthew Prince, the CEO of the content delivery and security company Cloudflare, pointed out after his company terminated the service of neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer, there are increasingly fewer (and bigger) choices for how people can put content online. “Without a clear framework as a guide for content regulation, a small number of companies will largely determine what can and cannot be online,” he wrote (Prince, Cloudflare blog).
The U.S. has adopted no clear or lasting framework for either ISPs or content deliverers since the 1996 Telecommunications Act. In 2015, the FCC under Obama released an Open Internet Order reclassifying the internet as a common carrier in order to protect net neutrality and promote “increased consumer choice, freedom of expression, and innovation (FCC, FCC 15-24). Though many of the regulations in Title II of the 1934 Communications Act would not apply, the order barred ISPs from throttling or blocking service, or giving better service for payment. Last year, Trump’s FCC repealed the order, supposedly to foster competition. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in his statement after the repeal, “What is responsible for the phenomenal development of Athe Internet? It certainly wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation” (Pai, The Verge). The law is currently in litigation, but the new rules will start to go into effect on April 23.
In addition to the regulation of access to internet service highlighted in the net neutrality fight and the regulation of internet content demonstrated in the Daily Stormer controversy, the internet also invites questions about our rights as users, including how much privacy we should expect. Across the Atlantic, the EU is adopting stricter privacy laws with the passage of the General Data Protection Regulation that will take effect in May. Following the news that firm Cambridge Analytica accessed and sold the data of millions of Facebook users, the demand for regulation in this domain has intensified in the U.S. Even Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has conceded, “The question is more, ‘What is the right regulation’ rather than ‘Yes or no, should it be regulated?’” (Zuckerberg, CNN).
Many sources guided this summary. Tim Berners-Lee’s “Keeping the Internet Competitive” offered a good starting point. Government documents include the Communications Act of 1934, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the 2010 and 2015 Open Internet Orders, as well as material from the FCC website (universal service and 1996 Telecommunications Act) and the archive of the Obama White House. Research from private institutions includes the Progressive Policy Institute, the Pew Research Center, Brookings, the World Wide Web Consortium, and Freedom House. News and opinion articles that informed the summary include: “Will the Telecommunications Act get a much-needed update as it turns 21?” (Recode); “Why We Terminated the Daily Stormer” (Cloudflare Blog); “Comcast and Netflix Reach a Deal on Service” (New York Times); “Netflix vs. Comcast ‘Net Neutrality’ Spat Erupts After Traffic Deal” (Time); “Comcast now has more than half of all US broadband customers” (Ars Technica); “50 million US homes have only one 25Mbps Internet provider or none at all” (Ars Technica); “Inside the huge, low-profile alliance fighting to save the FCC’s net neutrality rules” (Washington Post); “Ex FCC Boss: Gut Net Neutrality and You Gut Internet Freedom” (Wired); “Read FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s statement on killing net neutrality” (The Verge); “Google fined $2.7BN for EU antitrust violations over shopping searches” (TechCrunch); “China’s Censors Ban Winnie the Pooh and the Letter ‘N’ After Xi’s Power Grab” (New York Times); “What Would Regulating Facebook Look Like?” (Wired); “Mark Zuckerberg in his own words: The CNN interview” (CNN); “Comcast, the largest broadband company in the U.S., is getting even bigger” (Recode); “AT&T Would Use Time Warner as a ‘Weapon,’ Justice Dept. Says” (New York Times).
See the story of Send App here.
For my app, now called Send App, I thought about one of the lessons from the chocolate box exercise: invite your users to dive right in. I love words, and my future living will likely depends on their continued existence on the web, but I recognize that it’s a much better user experience when little or no preamble or explanation is necessary.
This feels particularly appropriate for the function of this app, which came out of my frustrations for the amount of googling required to send something (flowers, food, or a care package) to someone. I started by thinking about how I could prompt someone to begin the experience right away and get what they need.
In order to do so, the app would need only two pieces of information: what you want and where you want it. I found a couple of examples of sites or apps that do one or both of those things well, including Seamless, Instacart, and Uber (side note: I think Uber’s “Where to?” is a great little tidbit of UX Writing).
For my app, I settled on the simple directive “Send _____ to _____,” and set about using a combination of verbal and visual cues for the user to fill in the blanks.
For the visual identity, I wanted the app to feel simple and with the slightest touch of playfulness, since my primary use case involves people whose loved ones have faced a difficult experience. Here’s the muted but inviting (I think) color palette I decided on:
Finally, I mocked up the experience, from homepage to retailer landing page. Below, the items that I showed are in bold, with the rest of the pages and experience laid out after:
- Home [choose category, location]
2. Results Landing [optional filtering, select retailer]
3. Retailer Landing [browse items, click on items]
4. Item Description pops up [add item to cart, continue to browse]
5. Cart [check out]
6. Confirmation & Message to Loved One
Without further ado, the mockups are below or in interactive form on InVision.
Also, thanks to the creators of the many Noun Project icons I used. Credits to come.
I’ve been thinking about distance. I was planning to go forward with my idea about creating an app centered around long-distance relationships, but then I got a new inspiration. I called my parents in Boston a couple days ago, and discovered that my mom has been laid out with the flu and my dad had a bike accident and broke his shoulder and a rib. I’m in New York, busy with work and classes and thesis, and there’s not much I can do to help them out except send something or order something to be delivered to them.
I think that’s a more difficult experience than it needs to be, though. First, there’s the question of deciding what to get them (should I order flowers for morale? groceries for practical sustenance? a nice meal for delivery?). Then, there’s figuring out where to order from. Thankfully, I know the stores in my parents’ neighborhood, but what if I didn’t? How do I know who delivers and to where without checking each individual site?
For my new idea, I want to create an app that makes this process more seamless. I’ve started by mapping out the journey between a “loved one” (the person who is sick, has an injury, or has undergone some other difficult event), the “user” (the person who wants to send something), and the “vendor” (whichever store or service sends the gift). One charts, the steps, one designates pain points, and the other maps out emotions.
Notes from my week one presentation with Jeff, about how the perceived threat of terrorism is a driving force of foreign and domestic policy:
- Come in to week 2 with a driving force
- and 2 or more current conditions which are influenced by it.
- Do not speculate about the future, just tell us what we know about now and the past. How did it become a driving force? Explain the historical events leading to it. How does it influence the conditions which are influenced by it? What are the counter-forces at play?
Driving Force: Terrorism & Fear
- How do we define terrorism:
- no strict definition, but using it in the way that it is used in the general media
- but generally:
- acts th9at cause fear
- publicly causing harm
- political intent
- A brief history of Terrorism (knowing that there are driving forces to each of these events and that there were “terror” acts before these events)
- 1983 Beirut Barracks Bombing
- Two suicide bombers from the group called “Islamic Jihad” claimed responsibility. 241 US and 58 French peacekeepers, 6 civilians died.
- “Opening salvo in a war that we have waged ever since — the global war on terror.” – Mike Pence 2017
- US “would not be cowed by terrorists.” George HW Bush 1983
- 9/11 attacks
- 1983 Beirut Barracks Bombing
- According to the Global Terrorism Database by the University of Maryland, more than 61,000 incidents of non-state terrorism, resulting in at least 140,000 deaths, have been recorded from 2000 to 2014.
- Global Terrorism Index 2015, p.33 (http://economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Global-Terrorism-Index-2015.pdf)
2 Conditions Influenced by Driving Force
US Foreign Policy
- Preemptive warfare
- In contrast to “containment” strategy during Cold War
- “To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense.”
- Invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2002
- Justification of war: No distinction between terrorists and the nations that harbor them
- The rise of counterinsurgency tactics, such as drone strikes
- Digital Counterinsurgency
- Rise of military budget from $287 billion to $530 billion post-9/11
- Unilateralism/America First:
- In response to 9/11, withdrawal from Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol
- Echoed in Trump’s withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord (and all of Trump’s America-First ideology)
- Some cooperation among nations
- Anti-terrorism methods often “anti-democratic”
- Abu Ghraib (Iraq prison torture, exposed in 2004)
- Drone strikes
US Domestic security
- Ban on all liquids and gels except baby formula and prescription medication due to the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot
- Rise of detention centers and a loosened policy on torture
- Abu Ghraib
- Contrast pre-9/11 geneva convention?
- Surveillance state
- USA Patriot Act (2001)
- Increased power for NSA, FBI, CIA, DHS
- USA Patriot Act (2001)
- Polarization of Immigration
- ICE – formed pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, following the events of September 11, 2001.
- Increased deportations
- Turning local police officers into immigration agents
- Secure Communities Program 2008
- Secure Communities requires local law enforcement to share the fingerprints of arrestees with Homeland Security. The prints are run through a database, and if the search turns up an immigration hold, the arrestee can be detained until federal immigration authorities arrive.
- Secure Communities Program 2008
- Tying immigration enforcement to corporate profits
- Rise in private detention centers in arizona profiting from the detainment of illegal immigrants
- ICE – formed pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, following the events of September 11, 2001.
- Militarization of local police
- “ Before 9/11, the usual heavy weaponry available to a small-town police officer consisted of a standard pump-action shot gun, perhaps a high power rifle, and possibly a surplus M-16, which would usually have been kept in the trunk of the supervising officer’s vehicle. Now, police officers routinely walk the beat armed with assault rifles and garbed in black full-battle uniforms.”
- Move from peace-keeper to soldier
Counterforces (with the full knowledge that some of these are driving forces as much as they as are counter forces)
- Globalism and the need participate in the larger world economy
- Assuming that terrorism in part results from unstable economic conditions in the places that breed terrorists, participation in the world economy can help boost economy
- Democratic ideals, both at home and abroad
- Assuming that terrorism in part results from unstable political conditions in the places that breed terrorists, spreading democratic ideals helps stabilize nations
- The US responsibility as the world hegemon
- Resisting the pull of “America First” ideology to work with other countries aids security and tempers anti-Western sentiment
- Domestic security
Here are descriptions of three people I care about for the first step of brainstorming a final project for Designing Meaningful Interactions:
This is Michael. He’s a 28 year old living in Somerville, Massachusetts. He likes tending to plants (like the fiddle leaf fig he found on a sidewalk three years ago and nursed back to health), perusing the internet for strange odds and ends, and drinking inordinate amounts of flavored seltzer. Michael has trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
This is a problem for many reasons. First of all, he’s second year law student, and that requires a lot of time and energy. He has a lot of reading and cares about doing it thoroughly, and he participates in a couple of extracurriculars. He has also recently has decided to commit himself to going to the gym almost every day, a task that requires him to find bits and pieces of time in his day and scrap them together into enough extra time to run on an elliptical or lift some weights. Michael has no time to spare pressing the snooze button every eight minutes for an hour.
This is also a problem for his girlfriend (me). Whenever Michael needs to wake up before I do, I, a light sleeper inevitably wake up too. We live in different cities, so I don’t factor in too much to this problem, but it would still be better for both of us if he could somehow find a way to get up quickly in the morning.
For Michael, I want to create something that makes it easier for him to get out of bed in the morning—possibly an alarm that forces him to leave bed or solve a puzzle to turn it off. I know many people have the same problem and could benefit from this tool.
This is Jessica. She’s a 31 year old who lives in Bedstuy with a hound mix named Florence Nightingale, enjoys discussing shitty reality tv with her younger sister (me), and has a Spotify playlist comprised of hundreds of songs that are all perfect for long drives. She can’t stop reading the news.
She is a producer at MNSBC, so it’s her job to stay informed, but the compulsion to check Twitter carries over into other areas of her life. Out at brunch together, I’ll often find her peaking over at her phone on the table. This obsession been particularly exhausting and emotionally draining in a year dense with (often terrible) news.
I want to create a tool that helps curb the desire to check the news all time—or prevents the checking altogether. Since the news is often been tied to negative feelings, I also would want this tool to include a therapeutic aspect, that helps relieve the stress that comes from following current events.
This is (a drawing of) Sara. She turns 29 next month, works at a nonprofit that is often at the center of alt-right conspiracy theories, has run two marathons, and likes to cook meals that make the apartment that we’ve shared for 3.5 years smell great. Recently, Sara entered into a long distance relationship with a man who lives in Texas.
The relationship is relatively new, and so they have been experiencing the dating phase from afar. But they’ve managed to do so creatively. Together, Sara and her new gent spent a night creating sourdough starters over Facetime, then they baked bread with it when they were together. They have done yoga classes and watched movies together while on Facetime and have texted up a storm.
For Sara, I would want to create something that makes a long-distance date easier, whether by providing the ideas, easing communication, or helping to create more of a sense of physical presence. (Full disclosure: I’m also in a long-distance relation—see above—and stand to benefit from this tool, too).
For our first assignment, we had to write about an everyday object we think has a good user experience, and one that is frustrating. Since the frustrating object came to mind immediately, I’ll write about that first:
I hate my coffee maker. In the three and a half years we’ve lived together, my roommate and I have begun the search to replace it at least 20 times, but our terrible little Mr. Coffee machine has somehow managed to survive.
Where to start with its flaws?
The coffee pot
Somehow, it is designed to spill every time you pour it. Instead of emerging from the lip of the pot in a neat stream, it leaks down the side of the pot onto the countertop.
The fix: Our solution has been to pour coffee over the sink. The better solution for the makers of this machine would be to test and iterate on the current design until they come across one that doesn’t spill. I’ve seen coffee pots that don’t spill; I know it’s possible.
The program interface
With my coffee maker, you can brew the coffee immediately or set a delay time to brew it later. The problem is that the buttons for these two features look exactly the same, are stacked, and only distinguished by text that has rubbed off in the last few years. As a result, we have woken up several times to cold coffee.
The fix: To further distinguish these buttons, I would make them more distinct either in shape or location on the interface. If the Delay Brew button lived to the right of the Brew Now button instead of below it, for example, it might better signify a delay in time.
The water place (I’m not sure what this is actually called)
The compartment that the water goes in has a small opening, and the “window” on its side is foggy, making it hard for the user to detect how much water she has poured.
The fix: For the former, we have discovered that the extendable nozzle of our kitchen faucet can stretch to the coffee maker, making it easier to get water into the compartment. Another solution for kitchens that don’t enjoy this proximity could be a detachable water compartment. The user could take it out of the machine, pour water from the faucet in the sink, and replace it.
For the foggy window, the easiest solution is to use a better material that will allow the user to see the water through it. Another fix could be including an LED in the compartment that the user could switch on if she’s having trouble seeing the water level.
A few months ago, I switched over to a conditioner in a container with an push-down nozzle, resembling a giant soap dispenser. It was a great decision.
The design of this bottle saves me no more than five or ten seconds per shower, but that adds up after a daily (or sometimes every-other-day, I admit) shower. I don’t have to pick up a slippery bottle and risk dropping it on my toes, and with one press of a pump whose rounded top invites pressing, I have the perfect amount of conditioner in my hand. It’s such a simple interaction, but I appreciate it so much.
Last week I interviewed Dave Herman, the founder and director of the City Reliquary, a small museum in Williamsburg dedicated to New York City artifacts. I had been there on a field trip in a class last spring, and I loved the weird objects and the stories that they told. I was also interested in the many communities that intersect around the CR—pre-gentrified Brooklyn, tourists, collectors, etc.
Here’s my drawing of Dave (I admit that I did a horrible job drawing in-person and asked if I could take a picture to draw from later, which is what’s here):
Dave spoke to me for a while about starting his first NYC collection, some objects in the museum, community, and other topics. I’ve condensed the interview into snippets:
1. Collecting tickets
2. First objects in City Reliquary museum
3. Objects in display context
4. New York City geology
5.Old crusty cake
6. City Reliquary community
Last week after class, I rushed over to Blick to get grayscale Tombow Dual Brush pens, and I’ve been loving them. Here’s are a few results of practicing with them, enabled by willing friends and loved ones (and a clay skull):