The House Energy and Commerce Committee has issued a white paper and request for stakeholder input as part of its effort to rewrite the Communications Act.  As we previously wrote, Full Committee Chairman (R-MI) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) announced in December plans to work toward a wholesale rewrite of the Communications Act in 2015.

The white paper, which is the first in what is expected to be a series of white papers, provided a brief history of the Communications Act – from its original version in 1934 through the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and, most recently, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.  In discussing the current state of the law, the paper identifies as “one of the most common criticisms of the Communications Act” that it is “siloed” by communications sector.  “While there were historic reasons for separating the Act into service-based titles,” the paper says, “the Act and subsequent changes to it did not envision the intermodal competition that exists today.”  The paper also identifies “the rapid pace of innovation in technology” as a legislative challenge, noting that it has led to uncertainty about the FCC’s regulatory authority.

At the conclusion of the paper, the Committee included five broad questions for which it is seeking stakeholder comment:

  1. The current Communications Act is structured around particular services. Does this structure work for the modern communications sector? If not, around what structures or principles should the titles of the Communications Act revolve?
  2. What should a modern Communications Act look like? Which provisions should be retained from the existing Act, which provisions need to be adapted for today’s communications environment, and which should be eliminated?
  3. Are the structure and jurisdiction of the FCC in need of change? How should they be tailored to address systemic change in communications?
  4. As noted, the rapidly evolving nature of technology can make it difficult to legislate and regulate communications services. How do we create a set of laws flexible enough to have staying power? How can the laws be more technology-neutral?
  5. Does the distinction between information and telecommunications services continue to serve a purpose? If not, how should the two be rationalized?

The Committee also “will accept comments on any aspect of updating communications law.”  Comments are due to the Committee by January 31, 2014.

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