Executive Summary: A Technology Policy Framework for the Regulation of Online Services

A new report from the Center for American Progress proposes a framework for the regulation of online services. At a time when Americans depend more than ever on online services, the case for increased surveillance is clear. Strong regulatory and supervisory powers are a necessary complement to the revival of antitrust law enforcement in order to protect the rights and livelihoods of Americans.

First, this report examines the economic, privacy, consumer protection, and civil rights challenges that online services pose to Americans. The evidence for serious problems is clear but sadly incomplete, with the lack of transparency of online services creating a blatant information asymmetry between internet companies and everyone else. Overall, the report finds that these issues pose systemic risks to the national interest. He argues that this damage is neither inevitable nor the “cost” of enjoying the many benefits of the Internet.

The 117th Congress can make immediate progress towards better online services by advancing bipartisan technology antitrust bills, fully providing resources to the Federal Trade Commission, and passing comprehensive federal life protection legislation. privacy or by supporting the development of strong privacy rules. But an investigation into pending regulatory loopholes makes a strong case for new, stronger authorities to protect the public interest online.

In advancing the debate around these issues, this report builds on existing work to present a comprehensive and forward-looking proposal for the regulation of online services. It makes five main contributions:

  1. Model what regulation might look like all online services, beyond today’s gatekeepers.
  2. Advocate for a hybrid approach, encompassing core statutes around highly problematic practices and a proactive, principled rule-making system.
  3. Provide a single, opt-in regulatory level specifically for online infrastructure companies, which require separate processing to protect the essential functioning of online information.
  4. Offer a new test to advance the solid conversation around digital door entry identification.
  5. Develop a cross-cutting approach to strengthen existing sectoral regulatory bodies through investigative powers, referral powers, expert support and regulatory coordination.

Focus on online services

In defining the universe for regulatory action, this proposal simply focuses on providers of “online services” – products and services delivered over the Internet, exempting basic protocols and their static use. This cross-cutting approach focuses on the online service components provided by many different types of providers, rather than trying to narrow down the tech industry or a particular definition of a digital platform. In technical terms, this encompasses services offered in the application layer of a traditional Internet stack, but generally does not encompass telecommunications or network infrastructure further down the stack, such as physical network infrastructure or network infrastructure. Internet service providers (see the report for more on the Internet architecture “stack” models).

Three-tier regulatory strategy

The report proposes three categories of online services regulation: online infrastructure, general online services and supervisors. Each section presents the target entities, the regulatory logic and the tools offered. All online service providers would either belong to an online infrastructure level, on an approved membership basis, or to the general online service level by default; economically extremely important suppliers could also benefit from surveillance as gatekeepers.

  • the online infrastructures The tier is designed for infrastructure providers such as web hosts, cloud services, and content delivery networks. An opt-in regulatory category, it aims to preserve the online infrastructure by imposing public interest obligations, such as public transport, which is the obligation to deal fairly and equitably with all legal customers; no discrimination; and cybersecurity and other basic standards, as well as greater regulatory stability and protections dedicated to the liability of intermediaries in addition to those provided for in Article 230. It provides basic protections for the freedom of expression for online legal content and would allow for a more focused discussion of appropriate public interest obligations for service provision.
  • the general online services The level is designed for all other online service entities, regardless of their size. He proposes to favor competition, civil rights, consumer protection and privacy as key principles of online service regulation – operationalized by dedicated laws and associated rule-making capabilities, guided by these principles, as well as other process requirements enumerated by Congress. Clear and inherent violations of the rules can lay the foundation for the conduct of online services. Developing additional, principle-based rules would allow regulators to update and sustainably adapt protections to keep pace with emerging markets, balance competing interests within rule-making, and curb practices predatory continuously. With significant technical expertise and research capacity, these regulators would be charged with general oversight responsibilities and would also serve as specialist partners for other federal agencies.
  • the porter tier offers additional monitoring for the largest and most powerful online service companies. In order to determine custodian status, this report builds on existing work to propose a new qualification test for the common characteristics of dominant digital platforms. It envisions additional powers for regulators to act in addition to the enforcement of existing antitrust laws, including proactive rule-making powers and a wide range of tools to address specific issues arising from the supervisory power. . Designating powerful online service providers as gatekeepers deserving of scrutiny allows regulators to examine business practices not only in isolation, but also in terms of the systemic risks they may present to the economy and the public interest. national.


The report contemplates many potential avenues for updating this framework – a combination of new and existing laws, new rule-making powers, and a renewed use of existing powers is needed. It also considers several potential strategies for the administration of the regulations. Instead of preemptively determining which federal agencies should administer this regulatory approach, the authors argue that form should follow function. Although the report briefly discusses a set of administrative options, it remains agnostic among those choices. None of the report’s proposals replace structural remedies that could prevent and deal more effectively with inherent conflicts of interest. However, given the scale of online problems that are beyond the reach of structural approaches, additional regulatory capacity is needed.


Americans strongly support government action to regulate online services. A government that cannot understand, let alone anticipate, the dangers and potential of new technologies will increasingly be missed by the public over the coming decades. The road ahead is an important undertaking, but the cost of inaction would be higher.

The positions of American Progress and our political experts are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress only. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to thank the many generous donors who make our work possible.

Veronica J. Snell