justice150x150An initiative to update the 1996 Telecommunications Act, announced yesterday, drew praise from a diverse group of stakeholders even though the announcement offered no hint of what form the update might take. The announcement came from House Republicans Fred Upton and Greg Walden, who head up the commerce committee and the telecommunications subcommittee, respectively.

“We plan to look at the Communications Act and all of the changes that have been made piecemeal over the last 89 years and ask the simple question: ‘Is this working for today’s communications marketplace?’” said Walden in the announcement. “Our goal is to make sure this critical sector of our economy thrives because of the laws around it, not in spite of them.” –

Updating the act will be a “multi-year effort,” according to the announcement. “This process will involve a series of white papers asking questions about what can be done to improve the laws surrounding the communications marketplace as well as a robust conversation utilizing all platforms of digital media,” the announcement said.

Among those praising the new initiative were USTelecom, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association,  and CenturyLink.

There are a variety of changes that might be implemented as part of a legislative effort to update the telecom act. For example one comment we hear from time to time is that the FCC doesn’t have the authority to impose Net Neutrality guidelines or take other actions involving the Internet — and that the only way the commission could get that authority is through legislative action. Republicans like Walden and Upton generally argue that Net Neutrality guidelines are not needed, however, so it’s likely that they have other ideas in mind.

Another legislative effort involving telecom is considerably further along. New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte has introduced the “USF Equitable Distribution Act of 2013,” which aims to ensure that at least 75 percent of universal Service funding collected in any rural state is used for the provision of universal service in that state. A rural state is defined as one with a population density of 200 people or fewer per square mile.

Some stakeholders, including some rural phone companies, may believe the legislation is needed now that more and more states are deregulating telecom, in some cases eliminating or contemplating the elimination of state-level universal service programs.

The Independent Telephone & Telecommunications Alliance, which represents mid-size telecom service providers, issued a statement yesterday praising the proposed legislation, but also noted that the FCC and Congress have “neglected to address how universal service funds are collected.”

The ITTA statement advocates broadening the contribution base for the Universal Service fund — another move some say cannot be made without legislative changes.

Perhaps some stakeholders will suggest that this issue be addressed as part of the telecom law revamp. Attitudes toward this particular issue tend to be divided on rural/ urban lines rather than Republican/ Democratic lines.

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