Monday, April 6, 2009 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

What "Internet" Means to the Feds

Ever wonder about this? In researching COPPA, I noticed the following definition of "Internet"

collectively the myriad of computer and telecommunications facilities, including equipment and operating software, which comprise the interconnected world-wide network of networks that employ the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, or any predecessor or successor protocols to such protocol, to communicate information of all kinds by wire, radio, or other methods of transmission.

16 CFR § 312.2 (added in 1999). This definition comes from the COPPA law itself.

My quick and by no means exhaustive research (looked for the term "Internet means" in the CFR and U.S. Code) suggests that this is one of two definitions used, with slight variations, in Federal law (in less than a dozen places total).

The earliest reference I can find to this definition is from the Internet Tax Freedom Act of 1998 (the sales tax moratorium), which differed only slightly: "comprise" instead of "constitute" and omitting the "or other methods of transmission" part. This definition appears again in the child pornography rules issued in 2005 (28 CFR § 75.1).

The other definition I see is appears in the bankruptcy code (15 USCS § 163) and in the 2005 Internet gambling ban (31 CFR § 132.2 and 12 CFR § 233.2): "the international computer network of both Federal and non-Federal interoperable packet switched data networks."

So which definition is better? Do both suck? Should we care? "Discuss amongst yourselves!"

But no kvetching about the use of the word "myriad." Someone already beat you to the punch--and got smacked down:

[A] commenter objected to the proposed rule's use of the phrase "myriad of" in the definition of the term Internet in § 75.1(f). The Department declines to adopt this comment. According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed., 2003), "Recent criticism of the use of myriad as a noun, both in the plural form myriads and in the phrase myriad of, seems to reflect a mistaken belief that the word was originally and is still properly only an adjective * * *. The noun myriad has appeared in the works of such writers as Milton (plural myriads) and Thoreau (a myriad of), and it continues to occur frequently in reputable English. There is no reason to avoid it." Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 821 (11th ed., 2003).
(70 FR 29607). Milton alone leading a federal agency in the use of language might well be the "Blind leading the blind" (at least in the most literal sense--Milton being blind and federal agencies, well...), but who are we to argue with both Milton and Thoreau?

posted by Berin Szoka @ 10:48 PM | Regulation