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News & Press: Government Relations

How does Congress updating a 20-year-old law impact me?

Thursday, May 14, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: ESA Communications

The U.S. Congress is actively considering changes, conducting public hearings and moving closer to introducing

legislation that will change the 1996 Telecommunications Law that will have a profound impact on your business operations moving forward. Twenty years ago Congress did not address the revolutionary technology changes that have been felt in the marketplace of voice, video and data services from internet discoveries and expansion. When Congress addressed these issues in 1996, the internet was in its infancy, and there were no interconnected VoIP subscribers and no wireless internet connections. Technology is moving so rapidly that Congress and even the Federal Communications Commission has not kept up with the marketplace. This rapid innovation can also be a concern to the future of the alarm and monitoring industry.

As Congress considers revising this 20-year-old law, the Subcommittees and Committee Members and staffs for both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate need to be informed on how this national law can change the future well-being of thousands of small businesses and their employees, families, neighbors, vendors and most importantly, all of their customers. Most Congressional staffs are young, turnover in Congressional offices is high (usually five years or less) and the average ages is in the late 20's. In fact, most staffs now deciding these issues that will impact our industry were not even around during the debate surrounding the 1996 law.

During ESA's Day on Capitol Hill last week, attendees were provided with an opportunity to directly present our concerns to over 100 US House and US Senate Members and staffs having responsibility over telecom policy.

However, the job is not done. It requires constant vigilance, constant networking with these officials and staffs and constant visits to all 535 Congressional offices and hundreds of staff members that will have a position, and vote, on these issues for the new 21st Century Telecom Act.

The Telecom Act of 1996 was the FIRST significant overhaul of US telecommunications law in 60 years when the original Communications Act of 1934 was passed creating the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).The 1996 law was to open up markets to competition by removing regulatory barriers and was aimed squarely at the telephone companies. Prior to the Congress approving the 1996 law, Ameritech had purchased an alarm monitoring company and the industry lobbied heavily through the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) to include a provision in the law prohibiting for five years the acquisition of alarm and monitoring companies in order to protect the industry from anti-competitive and other concerns for the future. The AICC, which includes ESA as an active member, continues to this day to watch over and protect the alarm and  monitoring industry, especially in this 2015-2016 rewrite of the 1996 law.

The ESA is acting in concert with the AICC and other industry groups and companies, in a major effort to the US Congress as it considers changes to this 1996 law. The primary concerns of ESA is that there is a need for a "level playing field” to provide residential, commercial and infrastructure customers critical services that protect lives and property.

ESA is working to educate Congress so that there is a better understanding of the importance our industry provides in public safety and security. ESA's primary concern is that a level playing field is maintained and that network providers would not have an incentive to favor their own security services and "throttle" or "block our industries' emergency signals in order to gain a competitive advantage.

This was mainly the same argument that the AICC used 20 years ago to achieve a "David and Goliath" victory in Congress to detail a non-discrimination requirement and expedited hearing process for the alarm and monitoring industry on problems associated with services. This will be done again in the near future as Congress finalizes this rewrite of telecom laws. ESA is also advocating to Congress on battery backup requirements and consumer awareness of these requirements; that new technologies seeking approval by government need to be tested for reliability to perform at the same level as existing communications and concerns on speeding up of copper retirement and telecom deregulation in the states.