It could be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.
—Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar (1896)
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 culminated a decade-long political struggle over revamping a 62-year-old hodgepodge of federal legislation cooked up before the invention of television. Congress sought to create a vast competitive marketplace capable of dealing with the technological fusion of digital voice, video, and data services into the new Information Superhighway. The conflict pitted opposing Republican and Democratic ideologies about the government's role in regulating private enterprise and censoring TV programming and Internet access. The Republican-controlled Congress favored a digital free-for-all that removed existing barriers to telecom companies entering new industries, purchasing multiple media in local markets, and perpetual price regulations. The Clinton Administration wanted to preserve strong federal regulatory power to safeguard consumer interests in lower prices and to protect children from exposure to TV violence and cyberporn. Caught in the middle of this partisan fight, a host of broadcast, cable, and Internet providers repeatedly lobbied congressional committees to water down draft legislation threatening their monopolistic advantages.
A major snag was how quickly the seven regional "Baby Bell" companies, which provided only local telephone services, should be allowed to enter the lucrative long-distance market. Long-distance phone providers such as MCI, Sprint, and especially AT&T (from which the Baby Bells had been split in a 1984 antitrust settlement) opposed rapid entry of the regional companies. They argued that the Baby Bells should first face stiff competition in their own local-phone service areas. The regional companies in turn worried that, if cable and cellular companies were allowed to