Economic Theory of Infrastructure and Commons Management, An

Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Networks and Infrastructure and Net Neutrality

Article Snapshot


Brett M. Frischmann


Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 89, pg. 917, April 2005


This article asks if networks and other assets should be treated more as private property or more as common property.

Policy Relevance

Some types of infrastructure should be managed as a commons.

Main Points

  •  A number of technology policy issues involving communications networks, including intellectual property and network neutrality, raise the issue of whether property will be more open to the public, or more privately controlled.

  • Networks like the Internet requires us to choose between rules that allow freedom or control.

  • Opening access more and allowing less private control can help consumers.
    • With traditional infrastructure like roads, open access is traditional, but is not always free and is usually regulated.

  • Three points support open access to infrastructure:
    • First, infrastructure resources are fundamental, and generate value when used as inputs into a wide range of productive processes.
    • Second, the outputs from these processes are often “public goods” that generate positive externalities that benefit society.
    • Opening access to infrastructure resources can help everyone when it allows more downstream activities.

  • Basic research and intellectual property are examples of infrastructure that is should be open access.

  • The Internet should also be open access, using network neutrality rules.

  • Supporters of private control do not take the broad social benefits of open access into account, looking only at observable returns.

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