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The Law of Networks, Platforms, and Utilities

November 30, 2022

Prof. Shelley Welton has co-authored a new casebook that encourages using the tools of NPU law to help address some of the most pressing problems of our time.

Shelley Welton, Presidential Distinguished Professor of Law and Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, as co-authored a new casebook that integrates the law of networks, platforms, and utilities with the aim of pushing the field back to the center of legal education and scholarship.

Welton and co-authors Morgan Ricks (Vanderbilt Law), Ganesh Sitaraman (Vanderbilt Law), and Lev Menand (Columbia Law) “hope the book will help scholars, students, and policymakers better understand how critically important sectors of the economy have been governed — and how the tools of NPU law can help address some of the most pressing problems of our time.”

From The Regulatory Review:

The law of networks, platforms, and utilities (NPUs) once occupied a core position in legal scholarship and education. Its centrality in American life was widely recognized—from union halls and board rooms to state houses and universities. According to Felix Frankfurter, who taught public utilities at Harvard Law School for 19 years and served on the U.S. Supreme Court for 23 years, “no task more profoundly tests the capacity of our government” than “securing for society those essential services which are furnished by public utilities”—such as “light, heat, power, water, transportation, and communication.”

But in recent decades, what we are calling NPU law—which has gone by “regulated industries,” “public utilities law,” “the law of public service corporations,” and “the law of common carriers”—has all but ceased to exist as an integrated field of study. Significant intellectual and cultural shifts drove this change. In the closing third of the 20th century, the long-prevailing view that the public interest demanded a substantial measure of public control over society’s infrastructural resources gave way to a bipartisan distrust of public administration and an abiding faith in the self-regulating power of markets. In the process, deregulatory initiatives “transformed” NPU law, and its animating concepts dropped out of the legal and political imagination.

We believe that it is time to revive and refashion this field. To this end, we have just published a new casebook entitled Networks, Platforms, and Utilities: Law and Policy.

NPU law needs reviving for three primary reasons… . 

Welton’s scholarship has also appeared in publications such as the Yale Law Journal, California Law Review, Columbia Law Review, and Harvard Environmental Law Review. Prior to academia, Welton worked as the deputy director of Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Read more about the new casebook at The Regulatory Review.