Think back twenty years to 1996. Jerry Maguire was No. 1 in box offices, the Macarena was the hottest new dance move, and Google was just a funny word. Congress also happened to pass an update to the nation’s telecommunications laws that year.
Today, February 8th, marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. We’ve seen many technologies and services come and go since then, but the Internet’s tremendous growth during this time has put it at the center of our increasingly connected world. When the Telecommunications Act was written, it would have been impossible to predict that innovations like high-speed broadband connectivity and smartphones would become so vital to our everyday lives.
We’re far overdue for another update. In the over 130 page document, the word “Internet” is only mentioned once while “payphone” is mentioned twenty-two times. Just think about the countless ways the Internet has improved our lives from being able to be in constant contact with loved ones across the globe, to hailing a car ride, to even enjoying our favorite songs and TV programs on the go. Meanwhile, when was the last time you saw – let alone used – a payphone?
Undoubtedly, we need a modernized Act that reflects the dynamic Internet-driven marketplace. It should be technology neutral, not based on silos that are no longer relevant and create regulatory chaos. It’s clear that things like the disastrous legal and regulatory wrangling over the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order are just symptoms of the much larger problem of having an outdated Telecom Act. And now as a result, wireless networks are foolishly being subject to overly prescriptive regulations that were written generations before the advent of the very networks they are supposed to govern.
Congress began the important task of modernizing our communications laws in recent years but much work remains. It’s our hope that Congress is able to make meaningful progress on the issue this year, either through comprehensive action or incremental progress on key elements like wireless spectrum.
There is already bipartisan consensus that Congress must develop a long-term strategy to infuse more wireless spectrum into the marketplace to meet needs for predicted consumer demand and new advancements in our increasingly connected society. Senator Thune has made this a priority and continues to work with his colleagues to advance the MOBILE NOW Act.
If we want America to sustain its reputation as a global leader in technological innovation, the policies that govern telecommunications must be updated to align with the needs of the Digital Age.