Telecommunications Act of 1996
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Lobbying for a new telecommunications act began in the late 1980s. BOCs sought legislation to circumvent the prohibitions contained in the MFJ, particularly the prohibition on providing long distance services. AT&T, MCI and others sought legislation to open local telephone markets markets to competition. CMRS, cable companies, and others also lobbied. After 7 years, Congress passed the 1996 Act – at 210 pages and 750,000 words.
On February 8, 1996, President Clinton signed landmark telecommunications reform legislation into law, amending the Communications Act of 1934. It was the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in almost 62 years. The goal of this new law was to promote competition in the communications markets and ensure that all citizens benefit from the information superhighway now and in the next century. The Act contained provisions to, among other things:
- open competition between local telephone companies, long distance providers, and cable companies;
- help connect all classrooms, libraries, and hospitals to the information superhighway by the end of this decade;
- give families control of the programming that comes into their homes through television; and
- prevent undue concentration in television and radio ownership so that a diversity of voices and viewpoints can continue to flourish in this Nation.
While the Act introduced competitive telephone companies, the market went through a historical traditional market cycle of competition ending with industry consolidation. There are now fewer telecommunications carriers then there were ten years ago when the Telecom Act was enacted. The Telecom Act also contained the first Internet legislation, the Communications Decency Act, which sought to criminalize Internet indecency and obscenity.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was given the task, in some places in conjunction with State governments, of developing regulations to implement the new Act.
The FCC has held numerous rulemakings over the past three years to implement the provisions of the Act. On behalf of the Administration, the Department of Commerce/NTIA has filed comments on many of the key issues, including interconnection, access charges, universal service, broadcast ownership, and advanced broadband services.
"The FCC maintains ASCII Text and Adobe Acrobat versions (128 pages) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as well as WordPerfect and Adobe Acrobat versions (335 pages) of the completely updated Communications Act of 1934, as amended by the 1996 Act. The official citation for the new Act is: Telecommunications Act of 1996, Pub. LA. No. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56 (1996). The official printed slip law is available from the Government Printing Office."
Sources: Portions derived from NTIA's paper, The Telecom Act of 1996
“It would be gross understatement to say that the 1996 Act is not a model of clarity. It is in many important respects a model of ambiguity or indeed even self-contradiction.” Justice Scalia in AT&T Corp. v. Iowa Util. Bd.
A nickname of the Telecommunications Act was the "Telecommunications Attorney Full Employment Act." It created a great deal of work before the FCC implementing the new legislation. It also created a great deal of litigation. One count has over 100 appeals to federal court of FCC decisions related to the Telecom Act.