Two Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have announced an ambitious plan. They want to update the Communications Act, last revised in 1996, to better serve the internet era. Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), chair of the Communications and Technology subcommittee, say they could tentatively reform the law as soon as 2015, by first embarking on a series of hearings and penning white papers next year.
"When the Communications Act was updated almost 18 years ago, no one could have dreamed of the many innovations and advancements that make the Internet what it is today. Written during the Great Depression and last updated when 56 kilobits per second via dial-up modem was state of the art, the Communications Act is now painfully out of date," said Walden in a statement.
"last updated when 56 kilobits per second via dial-up modem was state of the art"
While the congressmen didn't specify any specific reforms they hope to achieve, it seems likely that the Republican-led effort will be pro-business and anti-regulation. Former Republican FCC commissioner Robert McDowell said as much when he joined the pair in a Google+ Hangout video call, suggesting that areas of technology that were less regulated have historically grown faster. Walden alludes to something similar in his statement: "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?'"
Current Republican FCC commissioner Ajit Pai has already officially voiced his support for the initative, and it appears that the broadcast and cable industries are on board, with Comcast, AT&T, the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association already voicing support. As far as the other side of the aisle is concerned, House Democrat John Dingell (D-MI) seems cautiously optimistic about reform as long as Democrats can help steer:
"As the author of every major telecommunications statute for the past three decades, I caution my Republican colleagues to approach modernizing the Communications Act with great care and attention to detail. Changes should not be made simply for change's sake, but rather based on clear and documented need. I urge my colleagues to proceed in a bipartisan manner and to hold numerous hearings in order to generate the record an undertaking this substantial will require."
While today's laws were clearly not designed for today's technology, that doesn't necessarily mean change would help technology move forward.
Fittingly, the initative already has a hashtag. You can follow #CommActUpdate.