The Telecommunications Act of 1996: Ten Years Later

February 6, 2006
George Washington University
Washington, DC


9:45 WHAT CAUSED THE TELECOM ACT? (Moderator: Richard Wiley)
Larry Pressler, U.S. Senator (ret.) and a principal author of the 1996 Telecom Act

Political Reflections on the 1996 Act

Gerald Brock, Professor of Public Policy and Public Administration; Director, MPP Program, School of Public Policy and Public Administration
The 1996 Act extended and formalized interconnection rights that had been developed over many years through federal and state regulatory decisions and court decisions. The 1996 provisions have provided a useful legal framework for interconnected competition, but the rapid development of the Internet and related services since 1996 has created a need to extend and revise the interconnection provisions of the 1996 Act.

10:30 IMPLEMENTING THE TELECOM ACT (Introduced by Matt Warner, FCLJ Editor)
Reed Hundt, Senior Advisor, McKinsey & Co.; former Chairman of the FCC

The Chairman of the FCC with the initial task of implementing the Telcom Act of 1996 will discuss the lessons learned and how that bears on present situation.

11:00 Implementing the Telecom Act: MAJOR MEDIA AND CONTENT ISSUES (Moderator: Michele C. Farquhar, Hogan & Hartson and President of the FCBA)
Michael Botein, Professor of Law and Director, Media Center, New York Law School

In its creation of "Open Video Systems" ("OVS"), the 1996 Act attempted to create a new hybrid mass communications/telecom regulatory status, with both cable television's programming services and common carriers' obligations to third parties. The purpose of the provision seemed to be attracting local exchange telephone (LEC) and other companies to the multichannel video business. This plan never worked out, however, because of overly onerous regulation and lack of LEC interest. Ironically enough, however, the major Regional Bell Operation Companies have announced campaigns to offer video, voice, and data directly to the home.

Angela Campbell, Professor, Institute for Public Representation, Georgetown University Law Center

Even though Section II of the 1996 Act concerning Broadcast Services did not receive much attention at the time the Act was passed, these provisions governing the transition from analog to digital television, revising the broadcast ownership rules, and altering broadcast licensing procedures, have had an important, and often detrimental, impact on the viewing public. These provisions have affected the public interest over the last ten years in both expected and unexpected ways.

Christopher H. Sterling, Professor of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University

Intended or not, the 1996 act had a transforming effect on the radio broadcasting business, leading to the large-scale consolidation of station ownership in merely four years. And yet the law's provisions were brief and simple---beware what you wish for!

Nadine Strossen, Professor, New York Law School and President, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

The "Communications Decency Act" ("CDA"), included in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, was the initial Congressional foray into regulating the content of Internet communications. It raised an essential First Amendment issue: whether the Internet should be treated more like traditional print media, in which "indecent" and "patently offensive" communications are constitutionally protected; or whether instead it should be treated more like the broadcast media, where the Supreme Court has allowed regulation of such communications. The Supreme Court unanimously struck down the CDA, holding that online expression is entitled to a high level of First Amendment protection.

John Thorne, Senior Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, Verizon; Adjunct Faculty, Columbia Law School

As Lenin once remarked on the subject of tanks, quantity has a quality all of its own. Lenin never knew Google. The drafters of the 1996 Act and the 1996 FCC didn't know Google either. This may explain how the legal regime alternately attracts or repels investment in the new broadband media.

12:30 LUNCH

1:30 Implementing the Telecom Act: MAJOR TELECOM (COMMON CARRIER) ISSUES

Thomas Hazlett, Professor of Law & Economics at George Mason University, and Director of the Information Economy Project at the National Center for Law and Technology.

With the legal collapse of the network sharing regime in telecoms in 2004, the emergence of facilities-based competition is observed. Coincidence or predictable economic response? I argue the latter.
Dirck Hargraves, Secretary and Counsel for Telecommunication Research and Action Center (TRAC); General Counsel and Senior Consultant with Issue Dynamics, Inc.

Are You Better Off Today Than You Were Ten Years Ago? Residential Consumers and Telecommunications Reform

Larry Strickling, Chief Regulatory Officer, Broadwing Communications; former Chief of the FCC Common Carrier Bureau

Was the situation we have today inevitable as a matter of economic reality or is it the result of choices made by legislators and regulators beginning in 1996? If the latter, would different choices have led to a different result?

Bob Rowe, Senior Partner, Balhoff & Rowe LLC; former Chairman of the Montana Public Service Commission and former President of NARUC

What are the key issues in universal service policy? Why is the fund growing and what if anything should be done? What changes are required in state regulation and what appropriate roles remain for states in telecommunications regulation and policy?

Joe Waz, Vice President of External Affairs and Public Policy Counsel, Comcast Corporation

The Greatest Story Never Told: Cable and the '96 Act: The Act failed in its primary purpose - promoting local telephone competition - by trying to 'simulate' competition, while succeeding in delivering the broadband future by 'stimulating' facilities-based competition from cable. There are some lessons from the '96 Act which can help to guide Congress as it considers new legislative proposals.


Dan Phythyon, Policy Director and General Counsel for the Alliance for Public Technology (APT); former Chief of FCC Wireless Communications Bureau

On the tenth anniversary of the 1996 Act, it's time to stop agonizing over why it hasn't worked as "intended" and move on to the process of enacting new legislation. Since that act will likely be outdated within a few years, too, let's also think about how we can make the process of legislating on telecom matters more palatable.

Blair Levin, Managing Director and Telecom and Media Regulatory Analyst, Stifel,Nicolaus & Company, Inc.; former FCC Chief of Staff

How does Congress pass telecom legislation, to be implemented by different FCCs and many states, and then interpreted by multiple courts, that sends the right signals to the market, so it can invest based on market risk, instead of political risk?

Eli Noam, Director of the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information (CITI); Professor of Finance and Economics at Columbia

A data-driven investigation of 100 media, telecom, and IT industries and their concentration trends before and after the 1996 Act reveals, for unregulated industries, concentration was moderate and fairly flat and for regulated industries, it was high and rising after 1996. The industry response to pro-competitive liberalization seems to have been oligopoly.

Pat Aufderheide, Professor and Director, Center for Social Media, School of Communication, American University

The notion expressed in Telecommunications Act Title IV that cross-sectoral competition would equate with the public interest was a weak operationalization of the public interest concept, especially in today's raucous and volatile media environment. One reasonable goal of public communications policy is fostering media for public culture, or citizen engagement about the shared issues of their society. This goal can be served by policies ranging from support for public broadcasting for a digital era to broadband deployment and network nondiscrimination.

Kathleen Wallman, Senior Advisor to the Brattle Group; CEO of Wallman Consulting Group; Government Affairs Advisor to the America Channel; Professor at Georgetown, teaching in the Communication Culture and Technology Program

We've spent the last ten years trying to figure out how to crack open the traditional local telecom market. That didn't exactly work out - and in the meantime we've managed to do nothing to mitigate public safety interoperability issues - how did that happen?

Andrew Schwartzman, President and CEO of Media Access Project

There are costs as well as benefits from attempting to write "top to bottom" omnibus legislation. Section 202(h) is an object lesson as to how such large legislative packages can become the vehicle for enacting mischievious provisions without public discussion.

Johannes Bauer, Co-Director of the Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law at Michigan State University

While the Communications Act of 1934 had a 60+ year run, a decade later there is serious talk about rewriting its 1996 counterpart. The inability of the policy establishment to effectively respond to challenges posed by the pace and character of post-96 changes in technologies, industries and communications services reflects serious, but unrecognized, gaps in the pre-96 understanding of the economics and politics of communications that persist to this day. There are alternative approaches to policy development.




Early registration fees will be available until January 20, 2006; after that date, regular registration fees will apply. Corporate: early - $200, regular - $250; FCBA Members and CITI affiliates: early - $100; regular - $125; Government and academic: early - $35; regular - $50.

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