The Debate Over The Communications Act


The Debate Over The Communications Act Essay, Research Paper

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the biggestoverhaul of telecommunications regulation since the original Communications Act of 1934. This actdrastically changed modern communications laws. The Telecommunications Bill was proposed by Senator James Exon, of Nebraska, and Senator Slade Gorton, of Washington, on February 1,1995. Included in this bill was the controversial communications Decency Act, which was designed to make obscene or offensive material on the internet illegal. Another controversial provision,calling for a computer chip, called the V-Chip, to be installed in every new television set, was included. The Telecommunications Bill was highly supported by Congress, President Clinton, and Vice-President Gore. However,some prominent members of Congress were opposed to the Communications Decency Act, including Newt Gingrich. Senator Patrick Leahy proposed a bill the would eliminate the decency act but it was defeated. On February 1,1996, with little opposition, the bill was passed, 414-16 in the House, and 91-5 in the Senate. Seven days laterthe bill was signed into law by President Clinton. This law was designed to stimulate privateinvestment, promote competition, protect diversity of viewpoints and voices among the media, provide parents with technologies to help them control the kinds of television programs that come into their homes, eliminate obscene and offensive content, and strengthen and improveuniversal service so that all Americans can have access to the benefits of the “information superhighway.” The Communications Decency Act angered many Americans, who believed it violated their First Amendment right of free speech. It would make it illegal to make available obscene and indecent material, not just pornography, on the internet or other online services, to anyone under the age of 18. If convicted, a person would

be subject to fines of $200,000 and up to two years in jail. The same day the bill was signed into law litigation was brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union. On February 26, 1996, the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition, brought another action in the samecourt, which was later consolidated with the original action. Eventually this litigation was brought all the way to the Supreme Court. In a landmark decision issued on June 26,1997, the Supreme Court held that the Communications Decency Act violates the First Amendment’sguarantee of freedom of speech. The Court’s opinion, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, resoundingly rejected censorship of the on-line medium and established the fundamental principles that will guide judicial consideration of the internet for the 21st Century. I believe that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was, on the whole, a very good piece of legislation. It lowered phone rates and it ensured that schools and libraries will have to the internet. However, I am very opposed to the Communications Decency Act and the V-Chip. I am very glad that the Communications Decency Act was declared unconstitutional. You have the right to say what you want and do what you want in this country. It is guaranteed to you in the Constitution and no one should be able to take it away from you. If you are offended by something someone says or does, you can always not listen to what they have to say. I also believe the V-Chip is a waste of money. The money spent on preventing children from seeing things on television should be put towards preventing them from seeing it in real life. What children see on television is nothing different than what they see on the streets. You can protect children from seeing violence, swearing, and sex on television, but you can’t stop them from seeing it in the real world.

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