Should Congress Rewrite the Telecom Act? Here’s What the Experts Think

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on January 30, 2013


The 9th Annual State of the Net Conference in Washington, D.C. last week featured a panel discussion titled “Should Congress Rewrite the Telecom Act?” in which a variety of industry experts, including TAP Scholar Christopher Yoo, shared their opinions. Moderator Tim Lordan, executive director of the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, asked each panelist to answer the title question with their initial reaction before taking a deeper dive into the debate. The full panel included:

  • Christopher Yoo, John H. Chestnut Professor of Law, Communication, and Computer & Information Science, University of Pennsylvania Law School
  • Larry Downes, Consultant & Author
  • Cathy Sloan, Vice President Government Relations, Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA)
  • Corie Wright, Netflix

While there seemed to be some general consensus that rewriting the Telecom Act at some point made sense, there were a variety of opinions and perspectives on how, when and why the telecommunications law should be modified. Professor Yoo believes the worst approach would be not rewriting the Act at all. Cathy Sloan with CCIA agrees it is only a matter of time, but was clear now is not the right time. Though, she believes it is inevitable that a rewrite of the law will occur in the near future.

Considering the Telecom Act of 1996 hardly even mentions the Internet, there are a number of advancements in the industry that can and will impact the law. Larry Downes thinks it’s best to let the telecommunications landscape evolve and allow the developments of the industry to dictate when an overhaul of the Act should take place. He believes we should wait until something specific propels policymakers to rewrite the law, making it a necessity to do so.

When Lordan asked the group what impetus would be necessary to result in a rewrite of the Telecom Act, the panelists’ responses were quite unique. Professor Yoo pointed to the decline of the wireline telephone network and rise of the universal service phone as a reason to amend the law to reflect today’s telecom environment. Sloan believes our ability to meet proper public safety standards is an appropriate catalyst for change, while Corie Wright with NetFlix reminded the audience that we must not ignore market abuse and the need to ensure fair competition.

To close the discussion, the participants were asked who may be the entity to rewrite the Act in the future—Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, industry groups, regulators, etc.—to which Professor Yoo offered, “All of the above.”

Listen to the audio recording of the discussion.