Indiana Daily Student

Media school professor discusses variations in legal definitions

Media School professor Barbara Cherry focused her research on the misuse of “public utility” and “natural monopoly” in telecommunications policy debates.

Cherry said these terms have different meanings to different people due to gaps in knowledge within and among the economic and legal professions.

“What I discovered unexpectedly was these bodies of laws have come to be misunderstood by lawyers and social scientists,” Cherry said.

Faculty, staff and researchers came together Monday to listen to Cherry discuss her paper, “Historical Distortion: How Misuse of ‘Public Utility’ and ‘Natural Monopoly’ Misdirects U.S. Telecommunications Policy Development.”

Taking place in the Tocqueville Room at the Ostrom Workshop, Cherry’s discussion was a part of the workshop’s Monday Colloquium Series. Started in 1973, this series provides a forum for presenters to discuss their research with those interested.

“You need to have a more historical perspective in order to understand what would happen to the system,” Cherry said in her presentation Monday.

Cherry discussed the effects these errors have had on policy debates using historical context and saying this is where she bridges with the Ostrom Workshop.

Founded in 1973, the Ostrom Workshop is a research center that uses collaborations with students and scholars to gain the skills required for research, according to its website.

“I’ve heard the series referred to as the workshop’s signature event,” said Allison Sturgeon, workshop executive assistant and grants coordinator.

When Cherry came to academia, she said this problem of misused terms arose and she wanted to learn more about it to help fix it.

She asked herself why it is so difficult for lawyers and economists to actually understand the law and debate this.

“We are still having difficulty getting people to actually talk about the origins of these bodies of law, where they came from,” Cherry said. “We’re still dealing with these errors.”

She added it is important for the differences in these terms and the problems with telecommunications policy debates to be fixed soon.

“The problem is there’s a lot at stake right now,” she said. “There are reasons why these principles have evolved, and a lot of these reasons still exist are not magically going to go away.”

After discussion, suggestions and questions, Cherry told those at the presentation that the paper she was discussing was only a small part of her research work. The purpose of the paper being discussed was very narrow, she said.

“This is just a sliver of a much bigger body of work,” she added. “There’s a lot of moving parts here.”

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