Lawmakers to Update '96 Communications Act

WASHINGTON — Congress fixing to commence work on the Communications Act, v. 3.0. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) announced their intent to update the Telecommunications Act of 1996, itself the first update of the original Communications Act, forged in 1934. Walden and Upton announced their intention on Google Hangouts.

“We thought we’d have a little discussion today about our activities in the months ahead,” Upton said. “It’s been quite some time since there’s been any type of update or hearings reviewing the Communications Act, and we’re prepared, in essence, to talk about a launch of a number of hearings that we will have next year, a number of white papers examining a whole number of different issues. Our goal, in fact, will be to use theses hearings throughout the course of the next year to begin to actually launch an update beginning in 2015.”

Walden stressed the emergence of the Web as a leading communications medium since the last update.

“Google is now the elder statesmen in the tech world, if you think about it,” Walden said. “Google’s been around about 15 years. Twitter’s just six years old. A lot has happened since the last update.”

The two sat in front of a white board with the hashtag, #CommActUpdate. The purpose, Walden said, was to cull as much public feedback as possible. They brought in former Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell, who is now with the Hudson Institute.

“Even the 1996 Act was based on the 1934 Act. It didn’t modify the foundation of the ’34 Act,” he said.

Consumers don’t care what medium carries their information, though laws are applied to physical and wireless mediums differently, he said.

The primary intention of the ’96 Act was to bring some regulatory relief to carriers. Upton mentioned the goal of supporting competition, while Walden brought up freeing up more spectrum for broadband. Upton also reiterated the intent for the subcommittee to “develop and publish a number of white papers finding specifically what’s going on today, and what are the questions we need to ask ourselves today… what laws are cumbersome, which ones are not.”

The ’34 Act, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, created the Federal Communications Commission, which is charged with carrying out the laws laid out in the Act. The commission took about five years to implement the 1996 Act.