Today marks the 17th anniversary of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. We at IIA have a strong connection to the Act, as our own Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher, then chair of the subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, was a player in drafting the Act and getting it passed.
Interestingly — though the Act is often tied to the growth of the Internet here in America — the word “Internet” was only mentioned in one section (and ironically, that section was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court). Instead, the main focus of the Act was to encourage new competition in local and long-distance telephone markets, as well as television. And since its signing into law, it’s not an understatement to say there has been a major disruption in the both the telephone and television markets. The rise of the Internet — spurred by the life-changing benefits of broadband that have led to widespread availability and adoption of the technology — has changed the way we work, entertain ourselves, and communicate with each another (although our nation still has a way to go until everyone is connected).
Seventeen years is a long time, and when it comes to the speed of the evolution of technology, 1996 might as well be the Dark Ages. As the telecommunications industry makes the seismic shift to all IP-networks — a transition that will usher in the full power of the Internet Age — it’s worth appreciating how important the 1996 Telecommunication Act was at the time of its adoption. It’s also important to recognize just how much the market has changed around market players subject to certain regulations in the Act.
If we’re going to fully embrace the power of current and future technology, the 1996 Telecommunications Act may not be still be relevant in many cases. Fortunately, provisions that would allow the Federal Communications Commission to forbear from applying certain regulations were included in Section 10 of the legislation (real-life forbearance example: the decision to not regulate investment and deployment of fiber-based facilities in the network). IIA hopes that the Commission will take note—we’ve come a long way but still need to catch up to today.
To see just how much things have changed since 1996, check out our “Then & Now” feature.