Powell ‘Wavering’ on ’96 Telecom Act

WASHINGTON — National Cable & Telecommunications Association president and CEO Michael Powell wrote last week that he was not sure he could say the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the success he once thought.

The act celebrated its 20th anniversary last week and, in an essay for the Federal Communications Law Journal, Powell pointed out that as Federal Communications Commission chairman under President George W. Bush, he would always provide an emphatic “yes” when asked at Hill hearings whether the Act was a success.

Powell said the statute’s ambiguity about regulating the Internet, which had been interpreted as a light hand that would allow the ’Net to grow free of burdensome regulations, was now being used to “resurrect a muscular regulatory model that places renewed and unfounded faith in regulators to manage the Internet.”

Powell was clearly referencing the current FCC’s move to regulate Internet access under Title II common-carrier rules. The NCTA, however, has also been critical of the FCC’s interpretation of the Section 706 advanced telecom deployment mandate to mean the commission can continue to regulate until every person has access to broadband service as the agency defines it.

Powell said that the regulatory trend was an ominous one and had caused him to rethink how he would answer the question now. He did not say he would answer no, but that he was “wavering.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.