Senate not planning communications law overhaul

The Senate won’t be following the House’s lead this year to overhaul the sweeping law regulating TV, radio and other communications services, Sen. Mark Pryor (R-Ark.) said Tuesday.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has begun to probe ways to bring the Communications Act into the 21st Century, but Pryor said the Senate Commerce Committee, of which he is a member, probably won’t be following suit.

“I doubt we’ll do anything this year but I know that the House has been saying that they want to open that and certainly we’ll be seeing what they want to do,” said Pryor, chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on Communications, at a winter meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in Washington.

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The Communications Act, first written in 1934, created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and outlined rules for television, radio and other telecommunications. The law was last updated in 1996, when the Internet was still in its infancy.

Critics have said that the current law “silos” different type of communications, like phones and television service. That has posed a problem for new systems that use the same lines, like phone calls that are transmitted over broadband Internet lines.

The House’s effort to rewrite the law is expected to take multiple years, and only just got underway. In January, an Energy and Commerce subcommittee held its first hearing on the issue with five former FCC chairmen.

Pryor said that he expected actual legislative action on the House side to begin next year.

“I would say they’re in a very early preliminary stage” right now, he said.

He acknowledged there was room for improvement in the existing law, but said that it had led to tremendous growth in the U.S.

“There are things in the act that you’d kind of wished they had done differently or maybe could’ve been done better, maybe need to be modernized. We can talk about that,” he said. “But you cannot argue with the fact that it’s been a real driver of the U.S. economy and it s been almost revolutionary in the entire economy.”