What It Does

Everymans' guide to telecommunications reform

President Clinton is expected to sign theTelecommunications Reform Bill this week. The massive overhaul of the nation's communication law creates a road map for the country's electronic future by tearing down regulatory barriers. The handy guide is designed to help you understand what the bill may mean to you.

Expands media ownership

The new bill allows media companies to get even bigger. One company will be able to own enough TV stations to reach 35 percent of the country, up from 25 percent. The bill also does away with the limits of the number of radio stations one company can own - so long as it owns less than half the stations in any one market. Broadcast stations will be able to buy cable systems, and vice versa. But broadcast networks still won't be allowed to buy one another. (Since FOX isn't technically a network, it is exempt from this and other rules.)

Deregulates cable TV

Cable companies will be able to sell you phone service, and phone companies will be able to sell you cable TV. In small communities, cable companies also will be able to raise you rates anytime they want for all but basic service. In three years' time, the same will be true in the rest of the country. Most consumers groups predict prices will go up. But the bill's designers hope that competition from direct-broadcast satellites and local phone companies will soon bring rates back down.

Tries to shield children from sex and violence

The bill requires manufacturers of television sets to install a device called a V-chip. The computer chip is designed to allow parents to control the level of violence and sexual content thier children see. Critics call it a waste, noting that most children understand the technnology better than their parents and so could quickly learn to override the device. The bill also outlaws the transmission of sexually explicit and other indecent material to minors over the Internet. Critics call that unconstitutional and plan to challenge the provision as soon as as the president sigh the bill.

Lets local and long-distance carriers compete

The bill lets long-distance companies offer local phone service. Local phone companies can offer long-distance service to all but their own customers. Before they can do that, though, they first must prove there are other, viable local phone companies competing in the area. Got it? If you're a NYNEX customer, Bell Atlantic can compete with AT&T, MCI, and Sprint for your long-distance business. But NYNEX can't .. until AT&T or another company can also compete for your local phone service.

Ushers in new era of consumer choice

By allowing long-distance and local phone companies to compete with the cable companies, who will be able to compete with direct-broadcast-satellite providers, who will be able to compete with local cellular and paging companies, who will be able to compete with local and long-distance phone companies, the bill is expected to create massive confusion - but also consumer choice. Suddenly, Ernestine at ''the'' phone company and her buddies at ''the'' cable company may have to think twice before putting you on hold for half an hour.

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