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Republican congressmen propose update to 1996 Telecommunications Act

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Two House Republicans have proposed plans to update the 1996 Telecommunications Act by 2015 in an effort to reflect new technologies and innovations that have emerged since it was passed 18 years ago.

House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) outlined their ideas during a Google Hangout event on Tuesday.

The two lawmakers said that the process of updating the act would include a series of hearings, white papers addressing how to improve existing communications laws, and getting the public's input via the Twitter hashtag #CommActUpdate.

Congressmen Upton and Walden hosted a Google Hangout Tuesday to discuss updating the 1996 Act. (Source: YouTube / Google)

Upton and Walden were joined by former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, who said the process will take a number of years to complete.

A number of major telcos, including CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), applauded the effort.

"How people communicate has changed dramatically over the two decades since the laws were last amended, as has the competitive marketplace," said Steve Davis, executive vice president for Public Policy and Government Relations for CenturyLink. "By taking action to modernize current law and eliminate unnecessary regulation, this reform will help foster innovation and investment across every telecommunications sector, encouraging the development of new, faster services at lower costs for consumers."

Absent from the hangout were any Democratic representatives. Rep. John Dingell (D- Mich.) said that while he supports reforming the Act, it needs to be done carefully.

"As the author of every major telecommunications statute for the past three decades, I caution my Republican colleagues to approach modernizing the Communications Act with great care and attention to detail," he said in a statement. "Changes should not be made simply for change's sake, but rather based on clear and documented need. I urge my colleagues to proceed in a bipartisan manner and to hold numerous hearings in order to generate the record an undertaking this substantial will require."

There are a number of key issues the reforms will have to address, including the ongoing migration from TDM to IP and special access, which have become hot-button issues of debate between competitive service providers and incumbent telcos such as AT&T (NYSE: T).  

For more:
- see the release
- here's the hangout link 
- The Verge has this article

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