The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is an amendment to the Communications act of 1934. The
purpose of this law is to level the playing field for the rush in new telecommunications
companies. The act allows for any telecommunications business to enter the market and
compete fairly with any company.
It will affect telephone service -- local and long distance, cable programming and other
video services, broadcast services, and services provided to schools.
The FCC (Federal Communications
Commission) has been instructed by the Congress of the United States to regulate and see
to the implementation of the Act.
What It Does
The Act ensures that schools, libraries, hospitals, and clinics have access to advanced
telecommunications services, and calls for them to be connected to the Internet by the
year 2000. It will help connect every school child in every classroom in America to the
information superhighway, helping even those in rural and low-income areas.
The FCC has ruled that schools will receive anywhere from 20% to 90% in discounts on
Internet and communication services. The total cost for this Universal service is $2.25
billion allocated each year.
The Act also provides an easier way for parents to regulate and monitor how outside
influences such as the media influence their children. As a result, the Communications Act
implements the V-Chip, a computer chip, required to be installed in every new television
This chip gives parents control of what their children watch on television. It has the
potential to block out stations and screen out potentially violent or objectionable
material. An additional provision the Telecommunications Act, the CDA (Communications
Decency Act), was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The provision would
have monitored the issue of "obscenity".
Aside from this personal use, institutions are also effected by the Act. The Act relaxes
many old limits. It increases how much air space one institution can own when occupying
more than 35 percent of national airways (the previous was 25%). In addition, the Act
upholds existing laws. It forbids one company from owning two TV stations in a local
market, or a newspaper and TV station in the same market, or a newspaper and cable in the
The Act also maintains the ownership ban of a cable company and a broadcast company by an
institution or individual in the same market. Cable companies are still required to
scramble all sexual explicit channels.
In addition, small telephone companies also know as baby bells, will be allowed to provide
long distance coverage outside of their regional area. In 1984 "Ma Bell" was
broken up into several different companies, and in the past have not been able to service
The Telecommunications act of 1996
repeals many of these stringent laws, it does however maintain equal access to the market.
Those Who Support it, and Those
President Clinton considers the Act a victory in the fight to bring better
telecommunications to schools, people, and communities across the United States. Many
people, including the Vice President Al Gore have worked tirelessly to ensure high values
be set for 21st century telecommunications.
Most people feel that this is the biggest beneficial reform on telecommunications that in
the end will help every person in the country have access to information should they
When speaking in the Library of Congress. President Clinton refers to Thomas Jefferson,
who deeded his books to the Library after the British burned their existing collection in
the War of 1812. Clinton remarked "The volumes that line these walls grew out of
Jefferson's legacy. He understood that democracy depends upon the free flow of
information." Many question these remarks. Does the Telecommunications act do this?
Many say no.
Critics of the Telecommunications Act state that this piece of legislation hinders the
free flow of information. Most critic feel that the V-chip, a form of rating system, will
fail in its effectiveness to monitor children as it has a proven history of failure in the
past. Ratings such as "NC-17" had to be changed from "XXX", simply
because it was becoming a symbol in modern culture, and became more of a right of passage
for youth, rather than a deterrent.
Telecomm. & the Law
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In fact, the more strongly rated a
movie, the more young people seem to want to watch it. An "R" rating will
attract 54% more children than a "G" rating will. Critics say the V-Chip is the
same concept, and it will ultimately end up as another example of the past. Unless you
regulate everything, there will always be crime, violence, and illicit material on the
television, Internet, and even the radio.
Critics also say that the Act limits the peoples choice because so many companies
are merging as a result of the Act. This in a sense drives out competition, as the big
telecommunications giants join ranks to weed out the smaller companies. This eliminates
the whole idea of allowing any telecommunications business to enter the marketas
stated by the Act of 1996.