The Political Dynamics of Legislative Reform: What Will Catalyze the Next Telecommunications Act of 1996?


Although most studies of major communications reform legislation focus on the merits of their substantive provisions, analyzing the political dynamics behind the legislation can yield important insights. An examination of the tradeoffs that led the major industry segments to support the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the “1996 Act”) provides a useful illustration of a political bargain. Analyzing the current context identifies seven components that could form the basis for the next communications statute: (1) universal service; (2) pole attachments; (3) privacy; (4) intermediary immunity; (5) net neutrality; (6) spectrum policy; and (7) antitrust reform. Assessing where industry interests overlap and diverge and the ways that the political environment can hinder passing reform legislation provides insights into how these components might combine to support the enactment of the next Telecommunications Act of 1996.