Boy, how times have changed since 1996.
To ensure the nation’s communications laws “make sense for today but are also ready for the innovations of tomorrow,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) in December announced plans for the committee to work on a multi-year effort in pursuit of updating America’s Communication Act.
Last week, the Communications and Technology Subcommittee began the arduous process that also will involve a series of white papers asking questions about what can be done to improve the laws surrounding the communications marketplace as well as a robust conversation utilizing all platforms of digital media.
The first white paper released Jan. 8 focused on broad thematic concepts and talks about ways to foster an environment for innovation, consumer choice, and economic growth.
When the Communications Act was last updated to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, most could not have dreamed of the many innovations and advancements that make the Internet what it is today. Walden explained in a news release that the committee plans to look at the Communications Act and all of the changes that have been made piecemeal over the years and ask one simple question: “Is this working for today’s communications marketplace?”
The first Communications Act was adopted in 1934, creating many of the regulations still in existence today including the creation of the FCC and its regulatory powers. In 1996, the legislation was updated – but at this time it barely had a mention of the Internet since we all were mostly using NetScape as our browser and there were only about 100,000 websites online.
Walden said in prepared remarks that few sectors of our economy are equal to the communications and technology sector when it comes to innovation, investment in the American economy, and job creation. In these tough economic times, policymakers should be committed to fostering this critical sector of the economy. Yet, the laws that regulate this industry are outdated at best and some are affirmatively damaging.
“It’s time for our laws to reflect our modern technological landscape – one grounded in the networks and services of our past and driven by our IP and mobile future,” added Walden.
Chairman Upton noted that the changes in technology since the last update in 1996 have been dramatic and existing laws have failed to keep pace with the vibrant and dynamic telecommunications industry.
Former Chairman Richard Wiley cited his almost five decades in the telecommunications sector in explaining that history shows that innovation happens most when a light regulatory touch is applied. He suggested that the objective of a statutory rewrite should not be to legislate premised on the current state of the marketplace or even on predictions of what it may look like in the future. Instead, he concluded, Congress should consider a flexible and technologically-neutral framework that will be capable of adapting to technical invention and innovation, whatever it may prove to be.
The lawmakers said they plan to begin the process of rewriting the law with a series of hearings this year, and they expect to have the updates completed in 2015. Keep up with these efforts on Twitter using hashtag #CommActUpdate.
Note: The Broadband Report is a regular feature in WRALTechWire.