The last major revision of the Teleommunications Act occurred way back in 1996 (our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher, who was chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet at the time, recently wrote about the Act for Roll Call). Given how radically things have changed since then, it’s a good thing the law included provisions, such as in Section 10, that allow the FCC to forebear. But as Paul Barbagallo of Bloomberg reports, at least one former FCC Chairman believes any changes to the Act will be minor:
Congress is likely to make small tweaks to the Communications Act, despite calls for a major rewrite of the statute, Richard Wiley, chairman of Wiley Rein LLP, said Feb. 19.
The last revision to the Communications Act, in 1996, took Congress nearly ten years to complete, and was itself the first major update to the law since 1934, Wiley noted during an event hosted by the Hudson Institute, a conservative policy and research group in Washington.
“I would like to see a big new statute,” Wiley said. “I think that would make sense for the country. But I’m not sure how soon that would happen.”
With Congress set to update the 1996 Communications Act to better reflect today’s broadband age, Sen. John ENsign (R-Nev.) is calling on the FCC to abandon its regulating the Internet under Title II. From the Washington Post:
The ranking member of the communications subcommittee said that the FCC shouldn’t proceed with its plan as Congressional Democrats last Monday announced plans to update the 1996 Communications Act to better reflect the nation’s Internet-based communications infrastructures.
“Much of our communications law is based on 19th-century railroad regulation, and the last significant update, 14 years ago, barely mentioned the Internet,” Ensign said in a statement. With the announcement by commerce committee chairmen to revisit the laws, “the FCC should abandon its misguided attempt to upend settled and successful Internet policy by reclassifying broadband service as a common carrier.”
But as the Hill reports, another Senator from across the aisle disagrees:
“Senator [John] Kerry believes that this process is complimentary to the efforts at the FCC, not a substitute for them. The deliberative process, both here and at the agency, will help inform and enhance our respective responsibilities to write and execute law and regulation that encourages innovation, inclusion, and consumer protections.”
Quickly after the FCC’s announcement that it will be moving forward with regulating the Internet under aspects of Title II, a number of Internet providers and analysts called on Congress to modernize the Communications Act. Yesterday, the New York Times reports, key members of Congress are looking to do just that:
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said in a joint statement that they would hold meetings in June to examine how the Communications Act meets the current needs of consumers, the telecommunications industry and the Federal Communications Commission.
The Communications Act was last overhauled in 1996 — a process that took five years.