The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was intended to reduce
regulatory inconsistencies resulting from dramatic changes in telecommunications
technologies. A key element of the act was the phase-out of price controls on
cable TV, which had inhibited competition and network investment. The statute
also allowed cable firms to provide telephone service and for the telephone
companies, in turn, to enter the video market.
Whereas past regulation was structured to control cable
monopolies, the development of competing video technologies — fiber optics and
Internet transmissions, in particular — rendered such regulation obsolete. A
variety of new services and service providers made competing network
infrastructure far more affordable, particularly when bundling voice, video and
data services as a single package. Thus, the municipal franchise system imposed
decades ago has been overtaken by the abundant, affordable video options
available today. Differences among the various alternatives are outlined below.
With traditional cable TV
service, all available programming is transmitted to a pipeline into the
premises. A set-top box, TV tuner or VCR unscrambles the signals based on a
customer’s service tier. Many cable systems have upgraded their networks in
recent years with fiber-optic lines, which increase transmission capacity, speed
and signal clarity.
The Internet-based networks
developed by telecommunications firms only transmit to the premises the content
a customer selects. The signals are transmitted via a Digital Subscriber Line
(DSL). This frees up bandwidth to be used for customized applications.
Under current federal law, Internet-based video services are
exempt from local franchise requirements. This was reinforced recently by
opinions from the Oklahoma attorney general as well as Connecticut’s Department
of Public Utility Control.
Satellites operate as
celestial antennas, relaying signals to and from computers and to a subscriber’s
satellite dish. The transmissions are weather sensitive and more prone to
landscape interference than other technologies. Satellite service cannot offer
the "triple play bundles" of voice, video and data service.
Several cellular telephone companies offer wireless video
services through handheld devices. In general, users may select segments of
news, sports, weather and music videos, although full-length video is available
on a limited basis.