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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Congress Approves Bill To Reform Telecom Industry

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives and Senate have approved an historic bill that rips down 62-year-old legal barriers and encourages the telephone, cable and broadcast industries to rush into each others' businesses.

President Bill Clinton hailed the congressional action, calling it critical to "building the information superhighway that will lead all Americans into a more prosperous future" and making it clear he would sign the bill into law.

"Consumers will receive the benefits of lower prices, better quality and greater choices in their telephone and cable services, and they will continue to benefit from a diversity of voices and viewpoints in radio, television and the print media," he said in a written statement.

Lawmakers have struggled to pass the telecommunications reform legislation in one form or another since the late 1980s.

Hailed by industry groups, but blasted by consumer groups and civil libertarians, the measure deregulates most cable television rates in three years.

It makes it a crime to knowingly send "indecent" material to minors over the Internet, and it forces television makers to install computer chips in new sets so parents can block violent programs. The two provisions probably will face court challenges.

The bill allows the seven regional U.S. Baby Bell phone companies to enter the $67 billion long-distance business, an area from which they have been barred since the 1984 breakup of the nationwide Bell system monopoly.

The measure requires local phone companies to open their networks to competitors, giving consumers for the first time a choice of local phone carriers. Long-distance phone companies, cable TV operators and others now have the opportunity to enter a $93 billion market controlled by the Baby Bells.

The bill also relaxes curbs on the number of television and radio stations a company can own. In back-to-back bipartisan votes, the House approved the measure 414 to 16 and the Senate 91 to 5.

While overwhelmingly approving the bill, lawmakers conceded it has some shortcomings.

The legislation had been stalled for more than a month after Senator Bob Dole threatened to block it unless lawmakers removed a provision that he charged was a multibillion dollar "giveaway" of a valuable part of the airwaves to the broadcast industry. But on Wednesday the Senate majority leader agreed to allow the bill to move to the floor of Congress after lawmakers promised to address the issue later this year.