Telecommunications Act of 1996

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 [P.L. No. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56 (1996).] was the first major overhaul of United States telecommunications law in nearly 62 years, amending the Communications Act of 1934. It was approved by the 104th Congress on January 3, 1996 and signed into law on February 8, 1996 by President Bill Clinton.

Major Provisions

The 1996 Telecommunications Act is divided into seven Titles:

Title I, "Telecommunications Service”- Helps to outline the general duties of the telecommunication carriers as well as the obligations of all Local Exchange Carriers (LECs) and the additional obligations of Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs).

Title II, entitled “Broadcast Services,” outlines the granting and licensing of broadcast spectrum by the government, including a provision to issue licenses to current television stations to commence digital television broadcasting, the use of the revenues generated by such licensing, the terms of broadcast licenses, the process of renewing broadcast licenses, direct broadcast satellite services, automated ship distress and safety systems, and restrictions on over-the-air reception devices.

Title III, entitled “Cable Services,” outlines the Cable Act reform, cable services provided by telephone companies, the preemption of franchising authority regulation of telecommunication services, video programming accessibility, competitive availability of navigation devices, and video programming accessibility.

Title IV, entitled “Regulatory Reform,” outlines regulatory forbearance, a biennial review of regulations, regulatory relief, and the elimination of unnecessary Commission regulations and functions.

Title V, entitled “Obscenity and Violence”, outlines regulations regarding obscene programming on cable television, the scrambling of cable channels for nonsubscribers, the scrambling of sexually explicit adult video service programming, the cable operators' refusal to carry certain programs, coercion and enticement of minors, and online family empowerment, including a requirement for the manufacture of televisions that block programs using V-chip technology. Title V also gives a clarification of the current laws regarding communication of obscene materials through the use of a computer.

Title VI, entitled “Effect on Other Laws,” outlines the applicability of consent decrees and other laws and the preemption of local taxation with respect to direct-to-home sales.

Title VII, entitled “Miscellaneous Provisions,” outlines provisions relating to the prevention of unfair billing practices for information or services provided over toll-free telephone calls, privacy of consumer information, pole attachments, facilities siting, radio frequency emission standards, mobile services direct access to long distance carriers, advanced telecommunications incentives, the telecommunications development fund, the National Education Technology Funding Corporation, a report on the use of advance telecommunications services for medical purposes, and outlines the authorization of appropriations.

The Act makes a significant distinction between providers of telecommunications services and information services. The term `telecommunications service' means the offering of telecommunications for a fee directly to the public, or to such classes of users as to be effectively available directly to the public, regardless of the facilities used.' On the other hand, the term `information service' means the offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications, and includes electronic publishing, but does not include any use of any such capability for the management, control, or operation of a telecommunications system or the management of a telecommunications service. The distinction comes into play when a carrier provides information services. A carrier providing information services is not a ‘telecommunications carrier’ under the act. For example, a carrier is not a ‘telecommunications carrier’ when it is selling broadband Internet access. This distinction becomes particularly important because the act enforces specific regulations against ‘telecommunications carriers’ but not against carriers providing information services. With the convergence of telephone, cable, and internet providers, this distinction has created much controversy.

The Act both deregulated and created new regulations. Congress forced local telephone companies to share their lines with competitors at regulated rates if "the failure to provide access to such network elements would impair the ability of the telecommunications carrier seeking access to provide the services that it seeks to offer." (Section 251(3)(2)(B)) This led to the creation of a new group of telephone companies, "Competitive Local Exchange Carriers" (CLECs), that compete with "ILECs" or Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers.

Most media ownership regulations were eliminated.

Title V of the 1996 Act is the Communications Decency Act, aimed at regulating Internet indecency and obscenity, but was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court for violating the First Amendment. Portions of Title V remain, including the Good Samaritan Act, which protects ISPs from liability for third party content on their services, and legal definitions of the Internet.

The U.S. Congress is currently considering legislation that would overhaul the Telecommunications Act of 1996. [Library of Congress. [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/R?cp109:FLD010:@1(sr355): Senate Report 109-355 29 Sep. 2006] Document, description of the Communications Act of 2006] [Library of Congress. [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:H.R.5252: H.R.5252-RS - 29 Sep. 2006 - 109-355] Communications Act of 2006 (text of the proposed legislation)] [COPE Act of 2006.]

The Act codified the concept of universal service and led to creation of the Universal Service Fund and E-rate programs.

Claims made in opposition to the act

When the smaller CLECs faced financial problems, the trend toward competition slowed, turning into a decade of reconsolidation. [Marcus] The two largest CLECs, Teleport Communications Group (TCG) and Metropolitan Fiber Systems (MFS) were acquired by AT&T and MCI/WorldCom.

[http://www.brookings.edu/experts/crandallr.aspx Robert Crandall of the Brookings Institute] has argued that the forced-access provisions of the 1996 Act have had little economic value, and the primary, sustainable competitive forces in phone and related, non-'radio', telecommunications are the wireline telephone companies, the cable companies, and the wireless companies.

The Act was claimed to foster competition. Instead, it continued the historic industry consolidation begun by Reagan, whose actions reduced the number of major media companies from around 50 in 1983 to 10 in 1996 [http://www.sfbg.com/blogs/bruce/2007/04/a_guest_blog_item_by_ben_bagdi.html] , reducing the 10 in 1996 to 6 in 2005. [Bagdikian, B. "Media Monopoly."]

Consumer activist Ralph Nader argued the act was an example of corporate welfare spawned by political corruption, because it granted broadcasters valuable licenses for broadcasting digital signals on the public airwaves at relatively little cost. [ [http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Nader/CutCorpWelfare_Nader.html Cutting Corporate Welfare by Ralph Nader ] ]

An FCC study found that the Act had led to a drastic decline in the number of radio station owners, even as the actual number of commercial stations in the United States had increased. [http://www.stopbigmedia.com/files/radio_ownership.pdf FCC report on negative impacts of media consolidation]

ee also

*Forced-access regulation
*Communications Act of 1934
*Telecommunications Act of 2005
*COPE Act of 2006

References

*A Legislative History of the Communications Act of 1936, by Paglin, Max D. - Oxford University Press, New York. 1989.
*Brinkley Act - Section 325(b) of the Communications Act of 1934 that was written into law in an attempt to halt live broadcasting from radio studios in the United States linked via telephone land lines to superpower border-blaster transmitters located along the Mexican side of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo), international border. This provision was carried through into the Telecommunications Act of 1996 by incorporation of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended to Section 325(c).
*Crandall, Robert, "Competition and Chaos; U.S. Communications Since 1996", Brookings Institute, 2005.
*Hendricks, John Allen. "The Telecommunications Act of 1996: Its Impact on the Electronic Media of the 21st Century." Communications and the Law, Volume 21, Number 2, June 1999.
*Library of Congress. [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c104:S.652: S.652.RS - 27/30 March 1995 - 104-23] Initial text of proposed legislation.
*Library of Congress. [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/R?cp104:FLD010:@1(sr023) Senate Report 104-23 7 June 1995] Document, description of the intentions for each section of S.652.
*Library of Congress. [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/R?r104:FLD001:S07882 S7881-7912 - 7 June 1995 - S.652] Measure laid before the Senate. Speeches made by Senators.
*Library of Congress. [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d104:SN00652:@@@S S.652 - All Congressional Actions w/Amendments] All speeches, amendments on the Senate Floor, 23 March 1995 through 8 February 1996.
*U.S. Senate. [http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=104&session=2&vote=00008 104th Congr. 2nd Sess. Vote 8 - 1 February 1996] Senate passes the final revision of S.652, sent to President Clinton who signed it into law on 8 February 1996.
*U.S.G.P.O. [http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=104_cong_public_laws&docid=f:publ104.104 Public Law No: 104-104] Telecommunications Act of 1996.
*Securities and Exchange Commission. [http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1012099/0000950130-98-003973.txt] Teleport Communications GroupTCG, Quarterly Report (10-Q), March 5, 1998, pages 3, 6-7.
*Securities and Exchange Commission. [http://sec.edgar-online.com/1997/11/14/17/0000950134-97-008611/Section9.asp] MCI Inc., Quarterly Report (10-Q), November 14, 1997, page 20. MFS
*Marcus, J Scott; "Is the U.S. Dancing to a Different Drummer?"; Communications & Strategies; volume 60; WIK-Consult GmbH, Bad Honnef, Germany; 4th Quarter 2005 [http://www.idate.org/fic/revue_telech/132/CS60%20MARCUS.pdf] ; page 39.
* Film, Media Corporate Histories & Convergence, 1920s-1999 ISBN 3631518528

Notes

External links

* [http://www.fcc.gov/telecom.html FCC - Telecom Act of 1996 webpage with copies of the Act]
* [http://www.cybertelecom.org/ Cybertelecom - tracking FCC regulatory proceedings that impact the Internet including ERate, the Communications Decency Act, Mergers, and more]
*http://www.oswego.edu/~messere/telcom1.html - "Analysis of The Telecommunications Act of 1996". This article by Fritz Messere (Associate Professor of Communication Studies at SUNY Oswego) describes the impact of the Act on radio and television broadcasting, Internet and on-line computer services, and provides sources and suggested further reading.
*http://www.mega.nu:8080/ampp/PEGB/chap04.htm#metatop - “Chapter 4: Liberalisation: Case Studies in Telecommunications” from the London School of Economics’ Course Guide to Political Environment for Global Business, by Richard Jerram, Michael Hodges, Louis Turner, and Richard Kurz. This article describes the main effects of US telecommunications reform and discusses the consequences of The 1996 Telecommunications Act.


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