Challenges and Competition in Policy Formulation
After two sessions of exploratory hearings in 1976 and 1977, in 1978 Congress began the ambitious task of rewriting the Communications Act of 1934. The task was ambitious because the rewrite effort sought to set new national policies which would take into account the consequences of technological developments as they had affected telephony, radio broadcasting, conventional television broadcasting, and cable television broadcasting. An effective new policy would have to incorporate the cumulative set of relevant administrative and judicial rulings rendered in each of these areas over the years. The new national policies would also seek to provide a basis for resolving future conflicts in areas of U.S. domestic and international communications in a changed environment of expanded competition and limited regulation. The discussion presented in this chapter focuses only on domestic telecommunications issues pertinent to redefining the role and status of the telecommunications common carriers as related to the shift from monopoly to competition. Other issues which also relate to competitive pressures, such as those pertaining to the debate over the entry of telcos into the cable television industry, are generally not included in this discussion. Although these issues were important ones, they were essentially at the periphery of the telecommunications policy debate of the 1970s and early 1980s.
Unlike the situation in 1976, when Congress had held what it called exploratory hearings on the controversial question of competition in the telecommunications industry, in 1978 Congress faced a different and somewhat more daunting challenge. Congress was faced with the tasks of defining a specific policy course, legitimating an already emergent policy of competition, and establishing its position as the premier formulator of telecommunications policy.