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UPDATED: Telecommunications Act Rewrite Update: House Energy and Commerce Committee Releases White Paper on Modernizing the Communications Act

Late last year, we told you about the House Energy and Commerce Committee beginning the process of what they called a multi-year effort to rewrite and modernize the Telecommunications Act of 1996; which, in and of itself, is a rewrite of the Communications Act of 1934.

Last week, the Committee released a white paper titled Modernizing the Communications Act outlining what they deem to be the problems with the law and asking for input on how best to rewrite the law.  In this four-page review and criticism of the current state of the law, they state the obvious; that the communications act is a problem because of how fast technology has changed and is changing.  Additionally, they are asking for input on how best to change the law.

Here are the questions they are asking for public response on:

Questions for Stakeholder Comment

  1. The current Communications Act is structured around particular services. Does this structure work for the modern communications sector? If not, around what structures or principles should the titles of the Communications Act revolve?
  2.  What should a modern Communications Act look like? Which provisions should be retained from the existing Act, which provisions need to be adapted for today’s communications environment, and which should be eliminated?
  3.  Are the structure and jurisdiction of the FCC in need of change? How should they be tailored to address systemic change in communications?
  4.  As noted, the rapidly evolving nature of technology can make it difficult to legislate and regulate communications services. How do we create a set of laws flexible enough to have staying power? How can the laws be more technology-neutral?
  5.  Does the distinction between information and telecommunications services continue to serve a purpose? If not, how should the two be rationalized?

They are asking for responses by January 31, 2014 to be sent to:  For additional information, please contact David Redl at (202) 225-2927.

On Wednesday, January 15th, the Committee will hold hearings to gain perspectives from the former FCC Chairmen on this topic. Watch it live and see the agenda here.  Watch a video of the hearing and read witness testimony here. Former Chairman Michael Copps will be testifying.  Copps is an advocate for Native American communications issues, so it is likely he will speak to this at the hearing or at least we hope so (see his blog post at Common Cause: The First Americans). We’ll be watching to see what he says. UPDATE:  Michael Copps Testimony can be found here, but, what he said can be summed up in this quote,

“Would I have some preferences for a reworked statute? Of course, although a good part of it is making sure the Commission and the industry follow through on what is already on the books to foster competition and consumer protection; to deliver on public safety; to preserve privacy in this age of massive intrusions; to avoid never-ending industry consolidation; to put the brakes on gate-keeping in our media, both traditional and new; and to provide the FCC with the resources it needs to discharge its responsibilities.”

And regarding the state of connectivity in Indian Country he said:

“My greatest disappointment at the Commission is that we didn’t do enough to encourage media that truly reflects the diversity of our people. Can you believe that today there is no African American-owned full-power commercial television station anywhere in the land? America is diversity, and if our media fails to represent diversity of providers and content and viewpoint and ownership, it fails us all. The sad plight of communications across our Native lands needs to be addressed with renewed urgency and additional resources. Imagine that there are still areas where a majority of the First Americans cannot access even plain old telephone service, let alone the kind of high-speed Internet that is the most powerful tool they can have to create opportunity where there is so little opportunity now.”

It will be interesting in the long-term to see, if or how the Committee and any new law resulting will address net neutrality issues, now that a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has basically struck down FCC Net Neutrality rules.  Further, as technology continues to evolve, it should be a real challenge for them to create a law and regulations that are evergreen.

Stay tuned (as they say in broadcasting) to see more posts on this ever-evolving story.


Telecommunications Act of 1996

Communications Act of 1934

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