Telecommunications Act of 1996

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The Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Govtrack) was the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in 60 years and included major concessions to the broadcast industry. In the bill, lawmakers limited eligibility for DTV licenses to existing broadcasters. In addition, Congress and the FCC provided each broadcaster with a second six MHz spectrum license, effectively doubling their spectrum holdings. The idea was to allow broadcasters to offer analog and digital signals on two separate channels during a transition period and when enough consumers made the switch, broadcasters would return their analog channels and roll out enhanced programming such as HDTV or multicasting on the digital channels. [1] (DTV signals can't be received through the existing analog broadcasting infrastructure, known as NTSC). [2]

Main article: Digital television

The consumer activist Ralph Nader referred to these concessions as "one of the single biggest giveaways in U.S. corporate welfare history." [3] The spectrum was estimated to be worth between $11 billion and $70 billion. [4] Even the onetime GOP presidential candidate, former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas, came out vehemently against the handout: "We don't give away trees to newspaper publishers. Why should we give away more airwaves to broadcasters?" he wrote in a 1997 editorial published in The New York Times. "The airwaves are a natural resource. They do not belong to the broadcasters, phone companies or any other industry. They belong to the American people." [5]


Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch resources


  1. Blair Levin et al., 700 MHz: A Pivotal Auction Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Inc., March 2, 2007.
  2. Lennard Kruger, Digital Television: An Overview, Congressional Research Service, updated Jan. 23, 2007.
  3. Ralph Nader, Testimony Before the House Committee on the Budget, June 30, 1999.
  4. Ralph Nader, Testimony Before the House Committee on the Budget, June 30, 1999.
  5. Bob Dole, Giving Away the Airwaves The New York Times, March 27, 1997.

External Resources

External Articles