On January 8, 2014, the House Energy & Commerce Committee released a four-page white paper (available here) titled “Modernizing the Communications Act.” The white paper is the first in an expected series and stems from the Committee’s announcement in December 2013 that it will wholly revamp communications law in a comprehensive bill in 2015. Arent Fox's client alert about that announcement is available here.
The Committee, borrowing from Twitter, has adopted the term #CommActUpdate to label this two-year legislative project. A hearing has been schedule for January 15, 2014, at which former FCC Commissioners will testify about their views for a new communications statute. For more on that, click here.
The white paper discusses the history of the Communications Act with particular focus on how the Telecommunications Act of 1996 marked a “fundamental shift” in regulatory mindset. That is, the 1996 Act enabled competition in the local market and codified the dichotomy between regulated “telecommunications” service and unregulated “information” service. Today’s hands-off approach to Internet policy grew out of that statutory framework, but according to the white paper the 1996 Act “did not address the Internet in a forward-looking manner.”
As a result, the paper continues, there is “regulatory uncertainty with respect to FCC authority to regulate aspects of the Internet within US borders.” The Committee wishes to craft the new telecom act in a way that will alleviate that uncertainty, principally by ending the present-day “siloed” approach in which different regulatory regimes apply to broadband Internet access depending on the means of access (cable v. telephone line v. wireless v. satellite).
In a move that likens it to an administrative agency, the Committee seeks comment directly from “stakeholders” on how to structure the forthcoming bill. Should the FCC be restructured? Is the telecommunications/information distinction still useful? What provisions of the existing Communications Act should change?
In all, the paper poses five questions. Comments are due January 31, 2014, and should be emailed to CommActUpdate@mail.house.gov.
For more information, please contact Stephanie Joyce or any of the attorneys in our Communications, Mobile & Technology Group.