ESD.68J | Spring 2006 | Graduate
Communications and Information Policy


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


Productive life is ever more difficult without access to advanced telecommunications networks, both wireless and wired, and the information and services available through the Internet. As networking technologies pervade our lives, they engage public policy concerns ever more directly. Good engineering design increasingly must anticipate both public policy tussles and business strategy imperatives. At the same time, technical innovations are reshaping the possibility space for implementing effective public policies across many domains, including public safety, consumer privacy, media diversity, and economic development.

This team-taught, multi-disciplinary elective course focuses on the interplay of technology, policy, economics, and business strategy in public telecommunications and Internet networks. The course aims to equip students with techniques useful for exploring the social and economic impacts of design decisions and, conversely, for designing engineering systems consistent with social and economic requirements. It provides an essential foundation for student research (thesis or otherwise) in this domain.

Students will work in teams on design challenges drawn from pressing debates at the frontiers of communications networking and information policy. Class lectures, discussions and readings will develop the background necessary to support knowledgeable exploration of selected design challenges, as well as provide overviews of additional topics of interest.


ESD.10 (Introduction to Technology and Policy), or permission of instructor. Students who have not taken ESD.10 are encouraged to familiarize themselves with Stone, Deborah. Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393976254.


Buy at MIT Press Nuechterlein, J., and P. Weiser. Digital Crossroads: American Telecommunications Policy in the Internet Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005. ISBN: 0262140918.


Evaluation will be based on following:

Class Participation 20%
A Short (5 page) Mid-term Paper 20%
A Final Team Project (comprised of a Proposal, Presentation, and Final (20 page) Paper) 60%


  • Readings: Readings are an integral part of this course. Students who indicate that they are prepared will be called on in class to explain the main ideas from assigned readings. Quality of explanation will be factored into the evaluation of class participation.
  • Mid-term Paper: The class will be given a written piece of policy advocacy on themes relevant to the course. Students will then be expected to write a paper that analyzes the piece’s arguments and rhetorical techniques.
  • Final Project: Students will work in teams to develop a final project, based on their selection of one design challenge from several options to be provided by the instructors.

Course Layout

Module 1: Technology (Clark)

An overview of technical topics underpinning the course, including the Internet’s architecture, application design, and wired and wireless networking technologies.

Module 2: Policy: Rationale and Methods (Gillett and Lehr)

  • Why have regulators been so involved in telecommunications?
  • Overview of methods of technical and policy analysis applicable to the final project. Discussion of problem definition and issue framing for topics with interwoven technical, social, economic, and political dimensions.

Module 3: Deep Dives (All)

This section of the course will provide the necessary background to support the topics offered as design challenges. It is broken into four submodules:

  • Module 3a: Spectrum Policy (Lehr)
  • Module 3b: Copyright and other Information-related Policies (Field)
  • Module 3c: Interconnection of Internet Service Providers (Lehr)
  • Module 3d: Broadband Access (Gillett and Guests)

Module 4: Additional Lectures

While students are preparing their final projects, additional lecturers will be invited to address the class on additional topics of interest.

  • Internet Governance (Guest Scott Bradner, Harvard University)
  • Open Access, or Making Money Openly (Clark)
  • One Laptop per Child (aka $100 laptop); the Internet and Developing Countries (Michail Bletsas, MIT Media Lab)

Module 5: Student Presentations

Classroom presentation and discussion of final projects.