In an attempt to reign-in the explosion of telecommunication technology, congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This massive act comprehensively addresses virtually every current aspect of telecommunications. It is the first major telecommunications legislation enacted since the Communications Act of 1934, which essentially established the air waves as public property, regulated by the government.
Major provisions in the media include major restructuring of the telephone industry, deregulation of the cable industry, and limitations in content of broadcast and network media. In a seeming about-face in the Bell breakup of 1984, the seven regional bells are now able to compete in the long distance arena. Long distance companies may now offer local service. There are no more prohibitions on cross-ownership in the telephone or cable industries. In fact, phone companies may now offer cable service and cable companies may offer telephone service.
While much of the bill's spirit is that of deregulation, some of the Act imposes strict new regulation.
Chief among these is the Communications Decency Act, which is embedded in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This is, by far, the most controversial and disputed portion of the Telecom Act. The Communications Decency Act, which is aimed at the internet and online computer services, imposes stiff criminal penalties for any person who transmits obscene materials over a computer network.
Of questionable legality in the Communications Decency Act is the international jurisdiction over the internet, which has no borders. The CDA criminalizes the transmission of
"any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other
communication which is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or
indecent, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another
person, or, any comment, request, suggestion, image, or other
communication which is obscene or indecent, knowing the
recipient of the communication is under 18 years of age,