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Posted April 6, 2009

Nachbar and Robinson Co-author Communications Regulation Casebook

Glen Robinson, Thomas Nachbar
Professors Glen Robinson, left, and Thomas Nachbar

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Contact: Rob Seal

Professors Tom Nachbar and Glen Robinson demystify communications law in their new casebook, “Communications Regulation.”

“I’ve wanted to write [this casebook] for quite a few years,” said Robinson, who served as the commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission from 1974 to 1976.

The duo began contemplating writing a communications law casebook after co-teaching communications law, and decided to use their teaching notes to pen a new narrative in the field.

“Glen had already collected substantial materials that he’d used to teach the course before,” Nachbar added. “I think all he needed was a mild shove to convert them into a formal book.”

Robinson and Nachbar identified a need in the classroom for a casebook that was not only comprehensive, but would tie the two sides of communications law — telecommunications and mass media — together in a way that was satisfying to students.

“In many ways, the course is really divided into two separate classes. From one perspective, there is nothing that necessarily ties them together, except that they are both regulated by the Federal Communications Commission,” Nachbar said.

When the FCC was established, telecommunications and mass media were two separate industries, he explained. But the distinction between the mass media and telecommunications have become blurred over time because they are frequently provided by a single company.

Media conglomerates like TimeWarner and News Corporation resulted after years of mergers and acquisitions of both mass media and telecommunications companies. Now their services span the communications spectrum.

Many of the recent innovations in communications regulation exhibit historical distinctions in how the FCC regulated communications, Nachbar said.

“In an odd way, the market has come to reflect some of the regulatory distinctions that the FCC made long before things like the Internet, although in ways in which the FCC could never have predicted,” Nachbar said. “Much of the book deals with how to reconcile a regulatory vision that is over 20 years old with a reality that tracks that vision in unpredictable ways.”

The book tracks the historical development of communications regulation, technology and economics. The final chapter is devoted to discussing trends of industry and regulatory change through the lense of the “four Cs”: “convergence, consolidation, competition, and complexity.”

“It’s much more narrative than you would normally expect a casebook to be,” Nachbar said. 

The field of communications law is evolving very rapidly, and the casebook reflects that, giving the reader a sense of transition, Nachbar said.

“A lot of things are happening. The challenge going forward is going to be keeping the book up to date,” Robinson added.

“As far as I’m concerned,” Nachbar said, “the book reflects the best kind of collaboration. For me, it was prototypical of the kind of great experiences I’ve had with my colleagues at Virginia.”

• Reported by emily williams