Digital Age Communications Act Now Before U.S. Senate
TMCnet Associate Editor
Sen. James DeMint (R-SC), member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Technology, Innovation, yesterday introduced the Digital Communications Act of 2005 - legislation which, if approved, will completely overhaul the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1934 and 1996.
The as-of-yet un-numbered bill proposes a market- and competition-based regulatory approach to the rapidly evolving communications industry while at the same time promoting "an environment that encourages innovation." It is based on proposals forwarded as part of the Progress & Freedom Foundation's Digital Age Communications Act (DACA) Project.
"We can no longer force a modern, dynamic industry to operate on archaic rules that destroy job creation, limit consumer choice, and needlessly raise prices," DeMint said in a prepared statement. "Congress must wake up. At a time when communication technologies are exploding, and mediums are merging, we must create a system that protects consumers while allowing businesses to thrive."
Herschel L. Abbott, vice president of government affairs for BellSouth Corporation, lauded the bill for addressing the regulatory challenges now facing the telecommunications industry, which has evolved significantly since the advent of digital communications.
"We applaud Senator DeMint on the introduction of this forward looking legislation that is designed to assure that market forces and competition replace the outdated regulatory forces that continue to hold our industry back," Abbott said in a company statement. "We are particularly pleased with the bill's focus on further clarifying the role that state commissions should play in regulating the industry. We look forward to working with the Congress on the need to refine how the communications industry is regulated going forward."
The bill, which is drafted to enhance consumer protection and prevent unfair competition, treats all telecommunications services alike, regardless of provider classifications. It mandates technology-neutral contributions by all service providers to the Universal Service Fund; phases out cable-TV franchises in a four-year period; and gives states the power to enforce federal rules as well as authority over public rights-of-way management. It recognizes that "since the implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, rapid advances in technology and marketplace developments have further increased the existence of competition in all communications markets" and that competition "is the most effective and efficient means of protecting consumers."
The bill presumes that economic regulation of communications markets is "unnecessary" when there are no apparent abuses of power that pose a risk to consumers. Should the Federal Communications Commission deem that regulatory intervention is necessary, it would apply an "unfair competition" standard that would require the agency's decisions to be based on a market-oriented competition analysis, such as that commonly employed by the FTC and Department of Justice.
Under the bill's approach, much more of the FCC's regulation will occur through ex-post adjudication based on specific facts rather than anticipatory overly broad prescriptive rulemaking.
The DACA Project was launched in February with the intent of providing guidance for regulators and legislators on how to reform the nation's communications laws. It is comprised of five working groups dealing with: Regulatory Framework; Spectrum Policy; Institutional Reform; Universal Service/Social Policy; and Federal/State Framework. Each group draws on the expertise of PFF fellows, scholars at other think tanks and universities, and public policy officials from the last five presidential administrations.
Patrick Barnard is Associate Editor for TMCnet and a columnist covering the telecom industry. To see more of his articles, please visit Patrick Barnard’s columnist page
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