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Carriers celebrate as Telecommunications Act of 1996 turns 20

Carriers celebrate as Telecommunications Act of 1996 turns 20

Analyst says reform-inspired consolidation among carriers has benefitted enterprise customers

The winners in a broadband industry heavily shaped by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 celebrated publicly this week, as February 8 marked the 20-year anniversary of the law taking effect.

The Act – a sweeping rewrite of America’s 60+ year old laws governing phone service, media ownership, and more – substantially deregulated the telecom and media industries, causing large-scale mergers and a much more centralized landscape.

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Jeff Sharp, a spokesperson for the Broadband Coalition industry group, said that the law’s passage was a watershed moment for the U.S. and a contributor to what the Internet has become.

“From enabling networking innovations that continue to reshape our lives every day, to wiring our schools and libraries, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 continues to drive American innovation, investment and economic growth,” Sharp said.

The Coalition even cranked out a celebratory YouTube video about the anniversary:

Chip Pickering, a former Congressman from Mississippi and now the head of INCOMPAS, a pro-deregulation industry umbrella group, worked as an aide to Senator Trent Lott during the Act’s passage through the legislature. In a post at Medium, Pickering credited the law with having enabled a wide range of technological innovation.

“If you’ve ever used an ATM, an app for an on-demand service, or high-speed wireless connection on your home computer, you’ve seen firsthand the innovation unleashed by the ’96 Act,” he wrote.

IDC group vice president for worldwide telecommunications research Courtney Munroe said that the consolidation among carriers has been a good thing for business IT users.

“One of the great ironies of the Act is that this competitive environment has led back to substantial industry consolidation, which is great for enterprises,” he told Network World. “The scale of a handful of companies … dovetails with the requirement of enterprises for centralized national and global [service providers.]”

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