By Former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) – 02/05/14 05:19 PM EST
OPINION l In today’s hyperpartisan environment, it’s useful to remember that not so long ago, Congress normally worked in a bipartisan manner to achieve matters of great national purpose. Saturday marks the 18th anniversary of one such notable achievement, the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
The ’96 Act was a watershed development in communications policy. It opened the door for cross-platform competition across a range of telecommunications sectors, expanding consumer choices and stimulating network investment. Telephone companies were empowered to offer multi-channel television service. Cable companies and other new entrants were empowered to provide competitive local telephone service. The Regional Bell Operating Companies were provided a path to enter the nationwide long-distance market upon demonstrating they had sufficiently opened their networks to local telephone competition, and they were given permission to manufacture telecommunications equipment.
The ’96 Act cleared away the regulatory underbrush that prohibited the cross-platform competition now made possible through technological advances. It ushered in an era of service convergence. Consumers benefited from the highly competitive market and were given one-stop shops for all their voice, video and data needs. Together with Congress’s wise decision in 1993 to adopt a light-touch regulatory approach to the then-emerging wireless industry and the contemporaneous decision of the Federal Communications Commission to forbear from applying common carrier regulations to broadband networks, the ’96 Act has undergirded the progress we have seen over the last two decades.