Wired for good?

editorial cartoon by Yasuyuki Nagasawa
editorial cartoon by Yasuyuki Nagasawa

After being tossed back and forth in an unsure Congress, the telecommunications bill, passed on Feb. 1, has emerged with both positive and negative stipulations on the communications world and its consumers.

From phone companies to television broadcasting, deregulation communication has sparked concern over the new telecommunications bill, passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton. Although it promises to create temporary disorganization, it will also promote a permanent healthy competition in the communication market.

Labeled by leery consumers as a market “free-for-all,” the new telecommunications bill deletes many of the long standing regulations established by the 1934 Communications Act.

Local phone companies will no longer have a monopoly on providing phone service in their areas. From now on, anyone, from long distance-provider to a bright business man, can offer their service at a better, more competitive rate. Local carriers can no longer slough off on service and sit haughtily knowing that their dependent customers need local telephone service and they are the only ones to provide it; a more efficient competitor will be peering around the corner.

Phone services will also be able to enter different venues. Local bells can now offer long-distance service; long-distance carriers can provide local service, and, in time, all services can enter the cable-TV business. Customers will be able to choose from a wider array of service options, from the lowest rate to the friendliest, most efficient service. Convenience may also become an issue, because with companies like AT&T planning on expanding into the local market, people will be able to choose their favorite company for all of their telephone needs.

Along with telephone service being revolutionized, television broadcasting has also entered a whole new ballpark. Until this bill was passed, no company could own more than 12 television stations reaching a maximum of 25 percent of U.S. households. Now, the cap has been raised to 35 percent, with no restrictions on the number of stations. The fear of monopoly during the early 1900s has finally been overshadowed and the industry is now allowing the “fit to survive.” With the best companies purchasing the less successful stations, citizens can look forward to not just one or two good programs, but rather an array of quality programming.

Also new in the television industry, the bill allows parents to censor what their children are exposed to on television by including a “Requirement for Manufacture of Televisions That Block Programs.” Within two years, all new TV sets will require a V-chip to block out violent shows, at the parents discretion. This places responsibility on parents to block out “sexual, violent or other indecent material,” that their children may be exposed to. This will be a convenience for concerned parents, and will also place responsibility in the hands of those parents that constantly blame media content for damaging their children’s fragile minds.

In this provision, parents are given the ultimate power to censor, but the government has taken the power to censor too far. In section 507, the bill outlaws the “importation or transportation of obscene materials through the use of computers.” Likewise, there will be criminal action taken against anyone who aids in the “coercion and enticement of minors,” over the internet.

The government should have also left this responsibility up to the parents. If they allow their children to surf the net then they should also be supervising them. Banning all material that is “patently offensive,” will limit free speech, which is protected under the First Amendment.

Although the telecommunications bill has brought competition back into a market that has been dominated by few, it has also set the communications world back by establishing pro-censorship provisions that leave citizens with mixed messages.

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