To commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the Federal Communications Law Journal (FCLJ) has compiled 32 essays from people who were “involved in the Act’s drafting, implementation, and attendant legal challenges.” Below is an excerpt from a piece written by Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s Senior Executive Vice President of External and Legislative Affairs:
Passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 offers great perspective on today’s political and policy gridlock in Washington. It signified a moment in time when an Administration and far-sighted legislators from both parties, holding different perspectives, but all keenly interested in the dawning Internet age, joined ranks to craft a statute that was far-reaching in its scope and visionary in its impact.
At bottom, the framers of the ’96 Act embraced a wise humility toward technology and its future development. They were conscious of the Communications Act of 1934’s sixty-year legacy, and wanted their work to last. It took nearly six years over three Congressional sessions to negotiate, compromise, draft and re-draft what ultimately became the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and their work provided a roadmap for the future of the nation’s communications landscape.
Indeed, the framers of the Act did their work better than they perhaps knew, piloting the ship of telecommunications policy through a foggy harbor into an open and unknown sea towards a destination of today’s cross platform communications marketplace. In retrospect, it is easy to forget how different things looked at the advent of the Internet. Back then, a consumer reached the Internet over a slow, twisted pair telephone line. The incumbent telephone companies who provided those lines were just starting to see the effects of competitive entry into their markets. Back then, the companies that comprised the current AT&T operated just over 70,000,000 switched access voice telephone lines. We didn’t provide any video services, and DIRECTV had just passed 1,000,000 video subscribers in the United States. The entire cellular industry had just over 44 million subscribers in the United States. The cable companies had not yet entered the voice market. The Internet existed but, broadband was still off in the future. It was a world where the dominant companies were traditional telephone companies, like Southwestern Bell, BellSouth, NYNEX and Bell Atlantic. Facebook, Google, and Twitter didn’t exist (Mark Zuckerberg was 11 years old when the Act passed). Apple was foundering in the wake of Microsoft’s dominance, having fired Steve Jobs eight years earlier.
The complete essay is available here.