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S. 652 (104th): Telecommunications Act of 1996

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first significant overhaul of telecommunications law in more than sixty years, amending the Communications Act of 1934. The Act, signed by President Bill Clinton, represented a major change in American telecommunication law, since it was the first time that the Internet was included in broadcasting and spectrum allotment. One of the most controversial titles was Title 3 ("Cable Services"), which allowed for media cross-ownership. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the goal of the law was to "let anyone enter any communications business – to let any communications business compete in any market against any other." The legislation's primary goal was deregulation of the converging broadcasting and telecommunications markets. However, the law's regulatory policies have been questioned, including the effects of dualistic re-regulation of the communications market.

This summary is from Wikipedia.

Last updated Oct 11, 2018. Source: Wikipedia

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress.

1/31/1996--Conference report filed in House. TABLE OF CONTENTS: Title I: Telecommunication Services Subtitle A: Telecommunications Services Subtitle B: Special Provisions Concerning Bell Operating Companies Title II: Broadcast Services Title III: Cable Services Title IV: Regulatory Reform Title V: Obscenity and Violence Subtitle A: Obscene, Harassing, and Wrongful Utilization of Telecommunications Facilities Subtitle B: Violence Subtitle C: Judicial Review Title VI: Effect on Other Laws Title VII: Miscellaneous Provisions Telecommunications Act of 1996 - Title I: Telecommunication Services - Subtitle A: Telecommunications Services - Amends the Communications Act of 1934 (the Act) to establish a general duty of telecommunications carriers (carriers): (1) to interconnect directly or indirectly with the facilities and equipment of other carriers; and (2) not to install network features, functions, or capabilities that do not comply with specified guidelines and standards. Sets forth the obligations of local exchange carriers (LECs), including the duty: (1) not to prohibit resale of their services; (2) to provide number portability; (3) to provide dialing parity; (4) to afford access to poles, ducts, conduits, and rights-of-way consistent with pole attachment provisions of the Act; and (5) to reestablish reciprocal compensation arrangements for the transport and termination of telecommunications. Imposes additional obligations on incumbent LECs (incumbent LEC requirements), including the duty to: (1) negotiate in good faith the terms and conditions of agreements; (2) provide interconnection at any technically feasible point of the same quality they provide to themselves, on just, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions; (3) provide access to network elements on an unbundled basis; (4) offer resale of their telecommunications services at wholesale rates; (5) provide reasonable public notice of changes to their networks; and (6) provide physical collocation, or virtual collocation if physical collocation is impractical. Directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to complete, within six months, all actions necessary to establish regulations to implement such requirements. States that nothing precludes the enforcement of State regulations that are consistent with those requirements. Requires the FCC to create or designate one or more impartial entities to administer telecommunications numbering and to make such numbers available on an equitable basis. Directs that the cost of numbering administration and number portability be borne by all carriers on a competitively neutral basis. Exempts a rural telephone company from incumbent LEC requirements until such company has received a bona fide request from interconnection, services, or network elements and the State commission determines that such request is not unduly economically burdensome, is technically feasible, and is consistent with universal service provisions, except the public interest determination. Sets forth provisions regarding: (1) State termination of the exemption and the establishment of an implementation schedule; and (2) limits on the exemption. Authorizes an LEC with fewer than two percent of the subscriber lines installed in the aggregate nationwide to petition for a suspension or modification of specified requirements for the telephone exchange service facilities specified in the petition. Directs the State commission to grant such petition to the extent that it is necessary to avoid significant adverse economic impacts on users of telecommunications services or to avoid imposing an undue economic burden or a technically infeasible requirement, where such suspension or modification is in the public interest. Provides for the continued enforcement of exchange access and interconnection requirements. Authorizes an incumbent LEC to voluntarily negotiate and enter into a binding agreement with a requesting carrier without meeting incumbent LEC requirements. Directs that such agreement: (1) include a detailed schedule of itemized charges for interconnection and each service or network element included in the agreement; and (2) be submitted to the State commission. Permits any party negotiating such an agreement to ask a State commission to participate in the negotiation and to mediate any differences arising in the course of the negotiation. Authorizes the carrier or any other party to the negotiation, from the 135th through the 160th day after the date on which an incumbent LEC receives a request for negotiation, to petition a State commission to arbitrate any open issues. Sets forth provisions regarding the duty of the petitioner, opportunity to respond, action by the State commission, refusal to negotiate, standards for arbitration, and pricing standards. Requires any interconnection agreement adopted by negotiation or arbitration to be submitted for approval to the State commission. Sets forth provisions regarding grounds for rejection, preservation of authority by the State commission, the schedule for decision, failure of the State commission to act, and review of State commission actions. Authorizes a Bell operating company (BOC) to prepare and file with a State commission a statement of the terms and conditions that such company generally offers within that State to comply with incumbent LEC requirements and applicable regulations and standards. Sets forth provisions regarding State commission review, the schedule for review, and authority to continue review. Specifies that submission or approval of the statement shall not relieve a BOC of its duty to negotiate the terms and conditions of an agreement regarding interconnection. Sets forth provisions regarding: (1) consolidation of State proceedings; (2) a required filing by the State commission; and (3) availability of any interconnection, service, or network element provided under an approved agreement to which the LEC is a party to any other requesting carrier on the same terms and conditions as those provided in the agreement. Preempts any State and local statutes, regulations, or requirements that prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting any entity from providing interstate or intrastate telecommunications services. Preserves a State's authority to impose, on a competitively neutral basis and consistent with universal service provisions, requirements necessary to preserve and advance universal service, protect the public safety and welfare, ensure the continued quality of telecommunications services, and safeguard the rights of consumers. Authorizes a State, without violating the prohibition on barriers to entry, to require a competitor seeking to provide service in a rural market to meet the requirements for designation as an eligible carrier. Makes this provision inapplicable to: (1) a service area served by a rural telephone company that has obtained an exemption, suspension, or modification that effectively prevents a competitor from meeting such requirements; and (2) a provider of commercial mobile services. Requires: (1) the FCC to institute and refer to a Federal-State Joint Board a proceeding to recommend changes to any of its regulations to implement specified requirements, including the definition of the services that are supported by Federal universal service support mechanisms and a specific timetable for completion of such recommendations; (2) one member of the Board to be a State- appointed utility consumer advocate nominated by a national organization of State utility consumer advocates; and (3) the Board, after notice and opportunity for public comment, to make its recommendations to the FCC within nine months. Directs the Board and the FCC to base policies for the preservation and advancement of universal service on: (1) availability of quality services at just, reasonable, and affordable rates; (2) access to advanced telecommunications and information services to all regions of the nation; (3) access and costs in rural and high cost areas that are reasonably comparable to that provided in urban areas; (4) equitable and nondiscriminatory contribution by all telecommunications services providers; (5) specific and predictable support mechanisms; (6) access to advanced telecommunications services for schools, health care, and libraries; and (7) such other principles as the Board and the FCC determine are in the public interest. Defines "universal service" as an evolving level of telecommunications services that the FCC shall establish periodically, taking into account advances in telecommunications and information technologies and services. Requires all carriers providing interstate telecommunications services to contribute to the preservation and advancement of universal service. Authorizes the FCC to exempt a carrier or class of carriers if their contribution would be "de minimis." Provides that only designated eligible carriers shall be eligible to receive specific Federal universal service support. Grants States authority to adopt regulations not inconsistent with the FCC's rules. Requires all providers of intrastate telecommunications to contribute to universal service within a State in an equitable and nondiscriminatory manner, as determined by the State. Permits a State to adopt additional requirements with respect to universal service in that State as long as such requirements do not rely upon or burden Federal universal service support mechanisms. Directs: (1) the FCC, within six months, to adopt rules to require that the rates charged by providers of interexchange telecommunications services to subscribers in rural and high cost areas shall be no higher than those charged by each such provider to its subscribers in urban areas; and (2) such rules to require that a provider of interstate interexchange telecommunications services provide such services to its subscribers in each State at rates no higher than those charged to its subscribers in any other State. Requires a carrier, upon receiving a bona fide request, to provide telecommunications services: (1) which are necessary for the provision of health care services in a State, including instruction relating to such services, to any public or nonprofit health care provider that serves persons who reside in rural areas in that State at rates that are reasonably comparable to those charged for similar services in urban areas in that State; and (2) for educational purposes included in the definition of universal service for elementary and secondary schools and libraries at rates that are less than the amounts charged for similar services to other parties, as necessary to ensure affordable access to and use of such services. Permits a carrier providing such service to have an amount equal to the amount of the discount treated as an offset to its obligation to contribute to the mechanisms, or receive reimbursement utilizing the support mechanisms, to preserve and advance universal service. Directs the FCC to establish competitively neutral rules to: (1) enhance access to advanced telecommunications and information services for all public and nonprofit elementary and secondary school classrooms, health care providers, and libraries; and (2) define the circumstances under which a carrier may be required to connect its network to such public institutional telecommunications users. Specifies that: (1) telecommunications services and network capacity provided to health care providers, schools, and libraries may not be resold or transferred for monetary gain; and (2) for-profit businesses, elementary and secondary schools with endowments of more than $50 million, and libraries that are not eligible to participate in State-based plans for funds under the Library Services and Construction Act are ineligible to receive discounted rates. Requires the FCC and the States to ensure that universal service is available at rates that are just, reasonable, and affordable. Prohibits a carrier from using services that are not competitive to subsidize those that are subject to competition. Requires the FCC, with respect to interstate services, and the States, for intrastate services, to establish any necessary cost allocation rules, accounting safeguards, and guidelines to ensure that services included in the definition of universal service bear no more than a reasonable share of the joint and common costs of facilities used to provide those services. Requires that: (1) if readily achievable, manufacturers of telecommunications and customer premises equipment ensure that equipment is designed, developed, and fabricated to be, and providers of telecommunications services ensure that service is, accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities; and (2) whenever such requirements are not readily achievable, such a manufacturer or provider shall ensure that the equipment or service is compatible with existing peripheral devices or specialized customer premises equipment commonly used by such individuals to achieve access, if readily achievable. Directs the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board to develop guidelines for accessibility of telecommunications and customer premises equipment in conjunction with the FCC and to review and update the guidelines periodically. Requires the FCC to establish procedures for its oversight of coordinated network planning by carriers and other providers of telecommunications service for the effective and efficient interconnection of public telecommunications networks used to provide such service. Authorizes the FCC to participate in the development by industry standards-setting organizations of public telecommunications network interconnectivity standards that promote access to public telecommunications networks used to provide service, network capabilities and services by individuals with disabilities, and information services by subscribers of rural telephone companies. Directs the FCC to: (1) complete a proceeding for the purpose of identifying and eliminating market entry barriers for entrepreneurs and other small businesses in the provision and ownership of telecommunications and information services, or in the provision of parts or services to providers of such services; (2) seek to promote the policies and purposes of the Act favoring diversity of media voices, vigorous economic competition, technological advancement, and promotion of the public interest; and (3) periodically review and report to the Congress on any regulations prescribed to eliminate such barriers and the statutory barriers that it recommends be eliminated, consistent with the public interest. Prohibits a carrier from submitting or executing a change in a subscriber's selection of a provider of telephone exchange service or telephone toll service except in accordance with such verification procedures as the FCC shall prescribe. Makes any carrier that violates such procedures and collects charges for such a service from a subscriber liable to the carrier previously selected by the subscriber in an amount equal to all charges paid by such subscriber after such violation. Directs the FCC to prescribe regulations that require incumbent LECs to share network facilities, technology, and information with qualifying carriers where the qualifying carrier requests such sharing for the purpose of providing telecommunications services or access to information services in areas where the carrier is designated as an essential carrier. Establishes the terms and conditions of such regulations. Requires LECs sharing infrastructure to provide information to sharing parties about deployment of services and equipment, including software. Prohibits any LEC subject to interconnection requirements under this Act from: (1) subsidizing its telemessaging service directly or indirectly from its telephone exchange service or its exchange access; and (2) preferring or discriminating in favor of its telemessaging service operations in its provision of telecommunications services. Directs the FCC to establish procedures or regulations thereunder for the expedited receipt and review of complaints alleging violations that result in material financial harm to providers of telemessaging services. (Sec. 102) Specifies that a common carrier designated as an "eligible telecommunications carrier" shall: (1) be eligible to receive universal service support; and (2) throughout the service area for which the designation is received, offer the services that are supported by Federal universal service support mechanisms either using its own facilities or a combination of its own facilities and resale of another carrier's services, and advertise the availability of such services and the charges therefor using media of general distribution. Requires a State commission to designate such a carrier for the service area. Authorizes (in the case of an area served by a rural telephone company) or requires (in the case of all other areas) the State commission to designate more than one common carrier as an eligible carrier for a service area designated by the State commission, as long as each additional requesting carrier meets the requirements of this section and such designation is in the public interest. Sets forth provisions regarding: (1) designation of eligible carriers for unserved areas; and (2) relinquishment of universal service (in areas served by more than one eligible carrier). (Sec. 103) Amends the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 (PUHCA) to allow registered holding companies to diversify into telecommunications, information, and related services and products where the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) determines that a registered holding company is providing telecommunications, information, and other related services through a single purpose subsidiary, designated an "exempt telecommunications company" (ETC). Requires prior State approval before any utility that is associated with a registered holding company may sell to an ETC any asset in the retail rates of that utility as of December 19, 1995. Specifies that the ownership of ETCs by registered holding companies shall not be subject to prior approval or other restriction by the SEC, but the relationship between an ETC and a registered holding company shall remain subject to SEC jurisdiction, with exceptions. Requires any registered holding company or subsidiary thereof that acquires or holds the securities, or an interest in the business, of an ETC to file with the SEC such information as the SEC may prescribe concerning: (1) investments and activities by the registered holding company, or any subsidiary thereof, with respect to ETCs; and (2) any activities of an ETC within the holding company system that are reasonably likely to have a material impact on the financial or operational condition of the holding company system. Prohibits public utility companies from assuming the liabilities of an ETC and from pledging or mortgaging the assets of a utility for the benefit of an ETC. Sets forth provisions regarding: (1) protection against abusive affiliate transactions; and (2) non-preemption of rate authority. Prohibits reciprocal arrangements to avoid the provisions of this section among companies that are not affiliates or associate companies of each other. Authorizes State commissions to: (1) examine the books and records of the ETC and any public utility company, associate company, or affiliate in the registered holding company system as they relate to the activities of the ETC; and (2) order an audit of a public utility company that is an associate of an ETC. (Sec. 104) Amends the Act to specify that a purpose of the Act is to make available service to all the people of the United States without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. Subtitle B: Special Provisions Concerning Bell Operating Companies - Requires a BOC to obtain FCC authorization prior to offering "interLATA" (i.e., long-distance; "LATA" means "local access and transport area") service within its region unless those services are previously authorized or incidental to the provision of another service, in which case interLATA service may be offered after the date of this Act's enactment. Permits a BOC to offer out-of-region services immediately after such date. Sets forth requirements for a BOC's provision of interLATA services originating in an in-region State, including: (1) the presence of a facilities-based competitor or competitors (but the presence of a competitor offering exchange access, telephone exchange service offered exclusively through the resale of the BOC's telephone exchange service, and cellular service does not meet such requirement); or (2) the failure of a facilities-based competitor to request access or interconnection. Establishes specific interconnection requirements, including a competitive checklist that a BOC must satisfy as part of its entry test (e.g., interconnection in accordance with specified requirements, nondiscriminatory access to 911 services, and reciprocal compensation arrangements). Sets forth administrative provisions regarding applications for BOC entry. Authorizes the Attorney General to provide to the FCC an evaluation of an application using any standard the Attorney General deems appropriate. Sets forth provisions regarding FCC determinations, limits on FCC actions, publication of determinations, and enforcement of conditions required for approval. Directs the FCC to establish procedures for the review of complaints concerning failures by BOCs to meet such conditions. Prohibits joint marketing of local services obtained from the BOC and long distance service within a State by carriers with more than five percent of the nation's presubscribed access line for three years after the date of enactment, or until a BOC is authorized to offer interLATA services within that State, whichever is earlier. Requires any BOC authorized to offer interLATA services to provide intraLATA toll dialing parity coincident with its exercise of that interLATA authority. Bars States from ordering a BOC to implement toll dialing parity prior to its entry into interLATA service. Provides that any single-LATA State or any State that has issued an order by December 19, 1995, requiring a BOC to implement intraLATA toll dialing parity is grandfathered under this Act, with the prohibition against "non-grandfathered" States expiring three years after this Act's enactment date. Sets forth "incidental" interLATA activities that the BOCs are permitted to provide upon the date of enactment. Prohibits a BOC (including any affiliate) which is an LEC from providing specified services (including manufacturing activities, origination of interLATA telecommunications services other than incidental interLATA services, out-of-region services, or previously authorized activities and interLATA information services other than electronic publishing and alarm monitoring services) unless it does so through an entity that is separate from any entities that provide telephone exchange service. Delineates structural and transactional requirements that apply to the separate subsidiary, including operating independently from the BOC, maintaining separate books and records, having separate officers, not obtaining credit under any arrangement that would permit a creditor upon default to have recourse to the BOC's assets, and conducting transactions with the BOC on an arm's length basis. Sets forth provisions regarding: (1) non-discrimination safeguards; (2) biennial audit requirements; (3) sunset of provisions of this section; and (4) joint marketing. Permits a BOC to: (1) engage in manufacturing after the FCC authorizes the company to provide interLATA services in any in-region State; (2) collaborate with a manufacturer of customer premises or telecommunications equipment during the design and development of hardware or software; and (3) engage in research activities relating to manufacturing and enter into royalty agreements with manufacturers of telecommunications equipment. Requires each BOC to maintain and file with the FCC information on protocols and technical requirements for connection with and use of its telephone exchange service facilities. Sets forth provisions regarding: (1) manufacturing limitations for standard-setting organizations; (2) alternate dispute resolution; (3) BOC equipment procurement and sales; and (4) FCC enforcement authority. Prohibits a BOC or any affiliate from engaging in the provision of electronic publishing that is disseminated by means of such BOC's or any of its affiliates' basic telephone service, but allows a separated affiliate or electronic publishing joint venture (EPJV) operated in accordance with this section to engage in electronic publishing. Requires a separated affiliate or EPJV to be operated independently from the BOC and to maintain separate books and records. Prohibits the affiliate from incurring debt in a manner that would permit a creditor upon default to have recourse to the BOC's assets. Sets forth provisions governing the manner in which transactions by the affiliate must be carried out (to ensure that they are fully auditable) and governing the valuation of assets transferred to the affiliate (to prevent cross subsidies). Prohibits the affiliate and the BOC from having corporate officers or property in common. Prohibits the separate affiliate or EPJV from marketing the name, trademarks, or service marks of an existing BOC except for those that are owned by the entity that owns or controls the BOC. Prohibits a BOC from engaging in joint marketing of any promotion, marketing, sales, or advertising with its affiliate, except that a BOC may: (1) provide inbound telemarketing or referral services related to the provision of electronic publishing if the BOC provides the same service on the same terms, conditions, and prices to non-affiliates as to its affiliates; (2) engage in non-discriminatory teaming or business arrangements; and (3) participate in EPJVs, provided that the BOC or affiliate has not more than a 50 percent (or, for small publishers, 80 percent) direct or indirect equity interest in the publishing joint venture. Requires a BOC that enters the electronic publishing business through a separated affiliate or EPJV to provide network access and interconnection to electronic publishers at just and reasonable rates that are not higher on a per-unit basis than those charged to any other electronic publisher or any separated affiliate engaged in electronic publishing. Entitles a person claiming a violation of this section to file a complaint with the FCC or to bring suit as provided in the Act. Prohibits a BOC or affiliate thereof from engaging in the provision of alarm monitoring services before five years after the date of this Act's enactment, except for such services by a BOC that was engaged in providing such services as of November 30, 1995, directly or through an affiliate (but such BOC may not acquire an equity interest in or obtain financial control of any unaffiliated alarm monitoring services entities from November 30, 1995, until five years after the enactment date). Provides that an incumbent LEC engaged in the provision of alarm monitoring services shall: (1) provide nonaffiliated entities, upon reasonable request, with the network services it provides to its own alarm monitoring operations on non-discriminatory terms and conditions; and (2) not subsidize its alarm monitoring services directly or indirectly from telephone exchange service operations. Requires the FCC to establish procedures for the receipt and review of complaints concerning violations of such provision or the regulations thereunder that result in material financial harm to a provider of alarm monitoring service. Bars an LEC from recording or using in any fashion the occurrence or contents of calls received by providers of alarm monitoring services for purposes of marketing such services on behalf of such LEC or any other entity. Directs the FCC to adopt rules that eliminate discrimination between BOC and independent payphones and subsidies or cost recovery for BOC payphones from regulated interstate or intrastate exchange or exchange access revenue. Authorizes the FCC, if it determines that it is in the public interest, to allow the BOC's to have the same rights as independent payphone providers in negotiating with the interLATA carriers for their payphones. Grants the location provider the ultimate decision-making authority in determining interLATA services in connection with the choice of payphone providers. Title II: Broadcast Services - Requires the FCC, if it determines that it will issue additional licenses for advanced TV services, to: (1) limit the initial eligibility for such licenses to persons who are licensed to operate a TV broadcast station, who hold a permit to construct such a station, or both; and (2) adopt regulations that allow such licensees or permittees to offer such ancillary or supplementary services on designated frequencies as may be consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity. Provides for the: (1) recovery for FCC reallocation or reassignment of the original or additional license of a person licensed to operate a TV broadcast station; and (2) charging and collection of fees from licensees by the FCC for the authorized use of designated frequencies. Requires a report from the FCC to the Congress on the implementation of this provision. Requires the FCC, within ten years after the first issuance of additional licenses, to conduct an evaluation of the advanced TV services program. (Sec. 202) Directs the FCC to modify its multiple ownership rules to eliminate its limitation on the number of radio stations which may be owned or controlled nationally. Limits the number of radio stations an entity may own, operate, or control in a local market, with an exception when the FCC determines that such ownership, operation, or control will increase the number of radio broadcast stations in operation. Directs the FCC to: (1) eliminate its limitation on the number of TV stations which may be owned or controlled nationally; (2) increase to 35 percent the national audience reach limitations for TV stations; and (3) conduct a rulemaking proceeding to determine whether its rules restricting ownership of more than one TV station in a local market should be retained, modified, or eliminated. Directs the FCC to extend its waiver policy with respect to its one-to-a-market ownership rules to any of the top 50 markets. Directs the FCC to permit a TV station to affiliate with an entity that maintains two or more networks unless such networks are composed of: (1) two or more of the four existing networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX); or (2) any of the four existing networks and one of the two emerging networks (WBTN, UPN). Directs the FCC to: (1) permit an entity to own or control a network of broadcast stations and a cable system; and (2) revise ownership regulations if necessary to ensure carriage, channel positioning, and nondiscriminatory treatment of nonaffiliated broadcast stations by a cable system. Requires the FCC to revise all such rules biennially. Repeals current restrictions on broadcast- cable crossownership under the Communications Act. (Sec. 203) Provides an eight-year license term for both TV and radio broadcast licenses. (Sec. 204) Revises provisions regarding renewal procedures for the operation of TV broadcast stations. Includes standards for both renewal and denial of an application. Requires each renewal applicant to attach to such application a summary of comments and suggestions from the public regarding violent programming. Makes such amendment effective with respect to applications filed after May 1, 1995. (Sec. 205) Extends to direct broadcast services current protections against signal piracy. Empowers the FCC with exclusive jurisdiction to regulate direct-to-home satellite services. (Sec. 206) Provides that any ship documented under U.S. laws operating under the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System provisions of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention shall not be required to be equipped with a radio telegraphy station operated by one or more radio officers or operators. (Sec. 207) Directs the FCC to promulgate regulations to prohibit restrictions that impair a viewer's ability to receive video programming services through devices designed for over-the-air reception of TV broadcast signals, multichannel multipoint distribution service, or direct broadcast satellite services. Title III: Cable Services - Revises the definitions of "cable service" and "cable system" for purposes of the Act. Directs the FCC to: (1) review any complaint submitted by a franchising authority after the date of enactment of this Act concerning an increase in rates for cable programming services; and (2) issue a final order within 90 days, unless the parties agree to extend the review period. Terminates such review authority for cable programming services provided after March 31, 1999. Makes such provision inapplicable with respect to: (1) operators providing video programming services in areas subject to effective competition (as defined); or (2) any video programming offered on a per channel or per program basis. Exempts from certain cable rate regulation provisions small cable operators (serving fewer than one percent of all cable subscribers in the United States, serving no more than 50,000 subscribers, and not affiliated with any entity whose gross annual revenues exceed $250 million). Revises provisions with respect to cable TV market determinations, requiring an expedited decisionmaking process. Prohibits any State or franchising authority from restricting in any way a cable system's use of any type of subscriber equipment or transmission technology. Sets forth provisions with respect to: (1) cable equipment compatibility; and (2) subscriber notice (allowing any reasonable means at the cable operator's discretion). Repeals anti-trafficking restriction provisions of the Act. Directs the FCC to allow cable operators to aggregate equipment costs into broad categories, regardless of the function levels of such equipment within such categories. Provides for the treatment of prior-year losses of a cable system. (Sec. 302) Subjects common carriers providing video programming to subscribers using radio communications to the requirements of title III and to the ownership and joint venture restrictions set forth in the following paragraph, but not to other requirements of title VI of the Act. States that such carriers providing such programming on a common carrier basis shall be subject to such requirements and restrictions, but not to other requirements of title VI. Allows such carrier to elect to provide such programming by means of an open video system, stating that such a provider need not make capacity available on a nondiscriminatory basis to any other person for the provision of cable service directly to subscribers. Prohibits any LEC or affiliate from purchasing or otherwise acquiring more than a ten percent financial interest, or any management interest, in any LEC providing telephone exchange service within such cable operator's franchise area. Prohibits an LEC and a local cable operator from entering into a joint venture to provide video programming directly to subscribers or to provide telecommunications services within such market. Provides exceptions, including exceptions for joint ventures in rural areas, joint use of transmission facilities in limited circumstances, acquisitions made in competitive markets, exempt cable systems (cable systems serving less than 17,000 subscribers, with other restrictions), and small cable systems located in nonurban areas. Authorizes the FCC to waive such financial interest or joint venture restrictions in cases of undue economic distress, economic viability, anticompetitive effects of such restrictions, or when the local franchising authority approves such waiver. Authorizes an LEC to provide cable service to its subscribers through an open video system that complies with this section. Outlines, with respect to the provision of such service through such system, provisions concerning: (1) certificates of compliance; (2) dispute resolution; (3) FCC regulations; (4) consumer access; (5) reduced regulatory burdens for such systems; and (6) FCC implementation of appropriate rules and regulations within six months after the enactment of this Act. States that an operator of an open video system may be subject to the payment of fees based on gross revenues in lieu of cable TV franchising fees. (Sec. 303) Sets forth provisions regarding preemption of franchising authority regulation of telecommunications services. Prohibits a franchising authority from ordering a cable operator to discontinue the provision of a telecommunications service or a cable system to the extent it is used to provide a telecommunications service by reason of the failure of the cable operator to obtain a franchise or franchise renewal for the provision of such service. Prohibits a franchising authority from requiring a cable operator to provide any telecommunications service or facilities, other than institutional networks, as a condition of the initial grant of a franchise, franchise renewal or franchise transfer. (Sec. 304) Directs the FCC to adopt regulations to ensure the commercial availability of convertor boxes, interactive equipment, and related equipment used to access multichannel video programming (MVP) from manufacturers, retailers, or other vendors not affiliated with any MVP distributor. Ensures the continued system security of MVP services. Provides FCC waiver authority with respect to provisions adopted under this section. (Sec. 305) Directs the FCC, within 180 days after the enactment of this Act, to complete an inquiry to ascertain the level at which video programming is closed captioned. Provides closed captioning accountability criteria and requires a schedule of deadlines for the provision of such service. Provides exemptions from such requirements in cases of economic burden, inconsistency with current contracts, or undue burden of a significant difficulty or expense (with specified factors). Directs the FCC to: (1) commence an inquiry to examine the use of video descriptions on video programming in order to ensure the accessibility of such programming to persons with visual impairments; and (2) report to the Congress on its findings. Title IV: Regulatory Reform - Directs the FCC to forbear from applying any regulation or provision of the Act to a telecommunications carrier or service if it determines that: (1) enforcement is not necessary to ensure that charges, practices, and classifications are just and reasonable and not discriminatory; (2) enforcement is not necessary for the protection of consumers; and (3) forbearance is consistent with the public interest. Directs the FCC to consider whether such forbearance will promote competitive market conditions. Allows any carrier to petition for such forbearance, requiring an FCC ruling within one year of such petition. Prohibits State enforcement of a regulation or provision after FCC-granted forbearance. (Sec. 402) Directs the FCC, in every even-numbered year beginning with 1998, to: (1) review all regulations issued under the Act that apply to the operations or activities of a provider of telecommunications services; and (2) determine whether such regulation is no longer necessary in the public interest. Requires the FCC to repeal or modify any regulation so determined. Provides procedures for streamlining such repeals or modifications. (Sec. 403) Eliminates or reduces specified FCC regulations, functions, and authority with respect to: (1) amateur radio examination procedures; (2) the designation of inspection entities; (3) instructional TV fixed service processing; (4) the setting of depreciation rates; (5) the use of independent auditors; (6) the delegation to private laboratories of equipment testing and certification; (7) the uniformity of license modifications; (8) jurisdiction over Government-owned ship radio stations; (9) the operation of domestic ship and aircraft radios without licenses; (10) fixed microwave service licensing; (11) foreign directors; (12) limitations on silent station authorizations; (13) construction permit requirements; (14) inspections of broadcast station equipment and apparatus; and (15) inspections by entities other than the FCC. Title V: Obscenity and Violence - Subtitle A: Obscene, Harassing, and Wrongful Utilization of Telecommunication Facilities - Communications Decency Act of 1996 - Revises provisions of the Communications Act prohibiting obscene or harassing telephone calls and conversation to apply to obscene or harassing use of a telecommunications facility and communication. Increases the penalties for violations. Prohibits using a telecommunications device to: (1) make or initiate any communication which is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person; (2) make or make available obscene communication; (3) make or make available an indecent communication to minors. Provides that no person shall be held to have violated such prohibition solely for providing access or connection to a telecommunications facility, system, or network not under such person's control. Provides employers with a defense for actions by employees unless the employee's conduct is within the scope of employment and is known, authorized, or ratified by the employer. Establishes as a defense to prohibited communications that a person has taken, in good faith, reasonable, effective, and appropriate actions to prevent access by minors or has restricted access by requiring use of a verified credit card, debit account, or adult access code or personal identification number. (Sec. 504) Requires cable operators, upon request, to fully scramble or block programming to which the subscriber does not subscribe. (Sec. 505) Requires a multichannel videoprogramming distributor: (1) to fully scramble or block sexually explicit adult programming so that nonsubscribers do not receive it; and (2) until it complies with such requirement, to not provide such programming during the hours of the day when a significant number of children are likely to view it. (Sec. 506) Allows cable operators to refuse to transmit any public access or leased access program which contains obscenity, indecency, or nudity. (Sec. 507) Amends the Federal criminal code to specify that current obscenity statutes prohibit using a computer to import or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, for sale or distribution, obscene material, including material designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion or for any indecent or immoral use. (Sec. 508) Prohibits using any facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce to persuade, induce, entice, or coerce a minor to engage in prostitution or any sexual act for which any person may be criminally prosecuted. (Sec. 509) Provides that no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable for any voluntary action taken to restrict access to, or to enable information content providers to restrict access to, material that the user or provider considers to be objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected. Subtitle B: Violence - Directs the FCC, if it determines that video programming distributors have not, within one year, voluntarily established rules for rating programming that contains sexual, violent, or other indecent material about which parents should be informed before it is displayed to children and voluntarily agreed to broadcast signals that contain such ratings, to: (1) establish an advisory committee to recommend guidelines and procedures for rating such programming; (2) prescribe such guidelines and procedures; and (3) prescribe rules requiring programming distributors to transmit such rating to permit parents to block inappropriate programming. Directs the FCC, not less than two years after enactment of this Act, to require apparatus designed to receive TV signals that are shipped in interstate commerce or manufactured in the United States and that have a picture screen of 13 inches or greater (measured diagonally) to be equipped with a feature designed to enable viewers to block display of all programs with a common rating. Authorizes the FCC to allow apparatus manufacturers to comply with such requirement using alternative technology that meets certain standards of cost, effectiveness, and ease of use. (Sec. 552) Encourages broadcast television, cable, satellite, syndication, and other video programming distributors to establish a technology fund to encourage electronics equipment manufacturers to facilitate the development of technology which would empower parents to block programming deemed inappropriate for children and to encourage availability of such technology to low income parents. Subtitle C: Judicial Review - Provides for the expedited review of any civil action challenging the constitutionality of this title by a district court of three judges and by direct appeal to the Supreme Court. Title VI: Effect on Other Laws - Provides that any conduct or activity that was, before the enactment of this Act, subject to any restriction or obligation imposed by the AT&T Consent Decree, the GTE Consent Decree, or the McCaw Consent Decree shall, after enactment of this Act, be subject to the restrictions and obligations imposed by the Communications Act as amended by this Act. Provides that nothing in this Act shall be construed to modify, impair, or supersede: (1) the applicability of the antitrust laws; or (2) any State or local law pertaining to taxation, except with respect to fees for open video systems. Repeals a provision of the Communications Act permitting the FCC to render a proposed merger of competing local telephone companies exempt from any Act of Congress making the transaction unlawful. (Sec. 602) Exempts any provider of direct-to-home satellite service from the collection or remittance of any local tax or fee on such service. Title VII: Miscellaneous Provisions - Prohibits a party calling a toll-free telephone number from being assessed a charge by virtue of being asked to connect or otherwise transfer to a pay-per-call service. Prohibits the calling party from being charged for information conveyed during a call to a toll-free (800) number unless the calling party: (1) has a written agreement specifying the material terms and conditions under which the information is offered and which includes the rate at which charges are assessed and certain identifying information; or (2) is charged for the information only after the information provider includes an introductory disclosure message regarding the charge, rate, and means of billing for the call and the calling party is charged by means of a credit, prepaid, debit, charge, or calling card. Outlines provisions concerning: (1) billing arrangements; (2) required use of a personal identification number by the subscriber to obtain access to the information provided; (3) exceptions to the written agreement requirement; and (4) termination of service if a telecommunications carrier reasonably determines that a complaint against an information provider is valid. Amends the Telephone Disclosure and Dispute Resolution Act to authorize the FCC to extend the definition of "pay-per-call services" under such Act to other services that the FCC determines are susceptible to the unfair and deceptive billing practices addressed by such Act. (Sec. 702) Makes it the duty of every telecommunications carrier to protect the confidentiality of proprietary information of other carriers, equipment manufacturers, and customers. Permits a carrier that receives proprietary information from another carrier or a customer for purposes of providing any telecommunications service to use such information only for such purpose. Directs a carrier to disclose customer proprietary network information upon the customer's request. Permits a carrier to use, disclose, or permit access to aggregate customer information for other purposes. Requires a carrier that provides telephone exchange service to provide subscriber list information to any person upon request for the purpose of publishing directories in any format. (Sec. 703) Directs the FCC to prescribe regulations to: (1) govern the charges for pole attachments used by telecommunications carriers to provide telecommunications services, when the parties fail to resolve a dispute over such charges; and (2) ensure that utilities charge just, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory rates for the pole attachments. Requires a utility to apportion the cost of providing space on a pole based on the number of attaching entities. Requires any increase in the rates for pole attachments to be phased in over a five-year period. Requires a utility to provide a cable television system or any telecommunications carrier with nondiscriminatory access to any pole or right-of-way owned by it. Allows a utility company providing electric service to deny a cable television system or telecommunications carrier access to such poles when there is insufficient capacity and for reasons of safety, reliability, and generally applicable engineering purposes. Requires utilities that engage in the provision of telecommunications services or cable services to impute to its costs of providing such service an equal amount to the pole attachment rate for which such company would be liable. Requires utilities to provide written notification to attaching entities of any plans to modify or alter its poles or other rights-of-way. Requires any attaching entity that modifies its own attachments to bear a proportionate share of the costs of such modifications. Prevents a utility from imposing the cost of rearrangements to other attaching entities if done solely for the benefit of the utility. (Sec. 704) Preserves State or local authority over decisions regarding the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities, but prohibits State or local regulation thereof from: (1) unreasonably discriminating among providers of functionally equivalent services; or (2) prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services. Requires State or local action on requests regarding such facilities to occur within a reasonable time, with denials of requests to be in writing and supported by substantial evidence in a written record. Prohibits State or local regulation of such facilities on the basis of environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent such facilities comply with FCC regulations. Provides for expedited judicial review and petitions of the FCC for relief from adverse State or local actions. Directs the President to prescribe procedures by which Federal agencies may make available property and rights-of-way for the placement of new telecommunications services that are dependent upon the utilization of Federal spectrum rights. (Sec. 705) Prohibits a commercial mobile services provider from being required to provide equal access to common carriers for the provision of telephone toll services. Directs the FCC, if it determines that subscribers to such services are denied access to the provider of telephone toll services of the subscribers' choice, contrary to the public interest, to prescribe regulations to afford subscribers unblocked access to the provider of telephone toll services of the subscribers' choice through the use of a carrier identification code assigned to such provider or other mechanism. Provides that such regulations shall not apply to mobile satellite services unless the FCC finds it to be in the public interest. (Sec. 706) Requires the FCC and each State telecommunications commission to encourage the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans by utilizing price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment. Requires the FCC to regularly initiate a notice of inquiry concerning such availability and, if it determines it to be necessary, to take action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market. (Sec. 707) Establishes the Telecommunications Development Fund as a corporate body in the District of Columbia to promote access to capital for small businesses in order to enhance competition in the telecommunications industry, to stimulate new technology development, to promote employment and training, and to support universal service. Directs the Fund to: (1) make loans, investments, or other extensions of credit and provide financial advice to eligible small businesses; and (2) prepare research, studies, or financial analyses. (Sec. 708) Recognizes the National Education Technology Funding Corporation as a nonprofit corporation independent of the Federal Government and operating under the laws of the District of Columbia. Authorizes the Corporation to receive discretionary grants, contracts, gifts, contributions, or technical assistance from any Federal department or agency. Requires audits of the Corporation by independent certified public accountants. Provides reporting and recordkeeping requirements. Requires the accessibility of Corporation books for audit and examination. Directs the Corporation to report annually to the President and the Congress on operations and activities of the previous fiscal year. Requires Corporation members to be available to testify before the Congress concerning such operations and activities. (Sec. 709) Directs the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to report annually to specified congressional committees concerning the activities of the Joint Working Group on Telemedicine, together with any findings in the studies and demonstrations on telemedicine funded by the Public Health Service or other Federal agencies. Specifies that such reports shall examine questions related to patient safety, the efficacy and quality of the services provided, and other legal, medical, and economic issues related to the utilization of advanced telecommunications services for medical purposes. (Sec. 710) Authorizes appropriations.