Lawmakers prepare update to Communications Act

Democratic lawmakers will start developing proposals to update the 1934 Communications Act in June, according to a statement from four prominent committee chairmen on Monday.

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.), along with Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), announced Monday that they will start the process to update the Communications Act by inviting stakeholders to take part in a series of meetings beginning in June.

The Communications Act of 1934 established the Federal Communications Commission and established its jurisdiction over radio and wireless communications. The 1996 Telecommunications Act overhauled the original bill and attempted to bring it up to speed with modern telecommunications technologies.

Now Democrats will attempt once again to update the act, likely with an eye towards determining exactly which regulatory body has jurisdiction over the various aspects of the Internet. The FCC's authority to regulate broadband access was called into question by an April federal court decision ruling the Commission had overstepped its bounds when attmepting to enforce net neutrailty on an Internet service provider.

“Our economic future depends upon getting all Americans connected to broadband, and that cannot happen unless the FCC acts fast. The 1996 Act took more than five years to enact, and the most recent attempt to rewrite the law produced no results," said S. Derek Turner, research director for the nonprofit Free Press.

"We cannot wait for Congress to act to protect consumers and carry out the National Broadband Plan. We hope that the public will have a seat at the table during this process, and that any draft legislation will put the needs of Main Street before the demands of Wall Street." 

Update: A spokesperson for Sen. Kerry sends the following:

"Senator Kerry believes that this process is complimentary to the efforts at the FCC, not a substitute for them. The deliberative process, both here and at the agency, will help inform and enhance our respective responsibilities to write and execute law and regulation that encourages innovation, inclusion, and consumer protections."