Commentary: It's Time to Modernize the Communications Act

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An important process is underway in Congress that could have a lasting impact on the video industry. The CommActUpdate, being evaluated by the Committee on Energy and Commerce, is a bi-partisan effort to modernize the Communications Act, the set of laws that govern America’s communications networks. While telecom debates in the last year have been polarizing, the CommActUpdate enjoys broad support across the aisle and is a rational and inclusive process, inviting the participation of many stakeholders across a range of issues. The process imbues the positive, competitive market ethos that characterized by the Clinton-Gore administration which architected among other things the use of spectrum for the Internet, ICANN, and a framework for ecommerce.

The Communications Act was promulgated in 1934 and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Radio was the cool medium of the day; television was just getting a foothold. Needless to say, the law never contemplated convergence—that content, communication, and connectivity would all be merged into internet protocol. Eighty years hence the internet is supplanting television, and video is replacing the World Wide Web as the popular application of the Internet.

Americans generally recognize the value of regulatory modernization and have experienced it benefits across a number of sectors. Agencies may be merged to streamline, if not strengthen their expertise, and redundant functions are eliminated, providing Americans better regulatory value. Moreover regulatory modernization fits within a larger global trend of developmental economics in which national governments realize that communications regulators can provide more value to society by enabling frameworks for technology rather than micromanaging networks. 

The process has proceeded with a series of white papers on topics such as spectrum, competition, interconnection, universal service, and the current inquiry on video policy.  The process seeks input on the following items:

  • how to create the optimal framework that facilitates both video content and distribution
  • how to improve consumer outcomes
  • balancing the rights and needs of users and content creators
  • how to address over the top technologies
  • the optimal role for broadcasters
  • given the ubiquity of the internet, updates needed with respect to cable, satellite, and other technologies. 

The vibrancy of the streaming media industry evidences how limited regulation to date has worked to help the internet video technologies flourish. The video ecosystem is rich with platforms, enablers, and solution providers. There are many new and important video providers. Few, if any, people in this industry would agree that they should they be saddled with the legacy regulations placed on broadcasters.

As such, the CommActUpdate is an important opportunity to tell Congress to modernize the Act. Obsolete titles and regulatory categories should be retired in favor of a pro-competitive, technology-neutral framework that it provides a level playing field for all actors. Users deserve the same set of competitive conditions across all platforms, technologies, applications, and networks.  

To participate in the video inquiry, submit your comments by 11.59 p.m. Friday, January 23 with an email to commactupdate@mail.house.gov

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