Internet Points of Control

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

Article Snapshot


Jonathan Zittrain


Boston College Law Review, Vol. 44, pg. 653, 2003


This paper identifies sections of the networks comprising the Internet where content passing over it can be controlled.

Policy Relevance

ISP control of online content by filtering and blocking is only acceptable if abuses are prevented and procedures are fair.

Main Points

  • The prevalence of pornography and pirated intellectual property on the Internet gives rise to pressure to control online content.


  • In Pennsylvania, state law can require Internet service providers (ISPs) to block Pennsylvanians' access to unlawful content. This is a departure from the usual approach, which does not require ISPs to police content, and widespread adoption would change the character of the Internet.


  • Some forms of online content control try to restrict content at the source site, such as the Communications Decency Act, which forbade the display of “indecent” content to minors.
    • It is hard to identify those responsible for a site, and they might be in a remote jurisdiction.
    • Copyright owners might not want to sue fans, even if they are transmitting illegal copies.


  • Some attempts to control content focus on the service that transmits or hosts  the content. ISPs are generally not liable for users content; but online service providers (OSPs) like Yahoo or universities are more involved with content themselves and can sometimes be held responsible. Often OSPs ban pornography. OSPs' responsibility for pirated content is less clear.


  • Requiring ISPs to block and filter content either at the destination or the source raises difficult procedural issues. Overblocking is likely. Control by ISPs and at other vulnerable network points is only acceptable if procedures and rules prevent abuse.


  • ISP controls violate the end-to-end principle, the belief that that innovation is fostered when the network is simple and users have substantial freedom at the end.

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