In 1996, congress overwhelmingly passed the Telecommunications Act which was an extreme overhaul of the Communications Act of 1934, which created the Federal Communications Commission that has been the regulatory body of the media industry since. The act made sweeping changes to the way that telephone services, telephone manufacturing, television, and internet services are being regulated. Of particular interest, the Telecommunications Act had a major effect on the both the network and cable television industries. The act relaxed the rules of the 1992 Cable Act that was governing the cable television industry. Now, telephone companies are able to provide cable television services and there is more freedom in regards to the pricing of the cable service from each party involved, both cable and telephone providers. Also, the act made it so that cable providers are required to scramble sexually explicit material on air. Cable boxes are now to be sold at retail price and the FCC can no longer affect computer network services that design cable equipment.
The Telecommunications Act made an enormous impact on the network television industry, and conversely, the television industry as a whole. Now, network television companies are able to offer cable services, as long as no network owns another network Any single company can now transmit signals to 35 percent of television owning households, which is higher than the previous 25 percent. There is now “spectrum flexibility” for broadcasters to provide high definition images but they would also have to return to the default spectrum if mandated by the FCC. All television manufacturers are now required to provide a V-chip which gives parental control abilities to block content that is deemed too violent, sexually explicit, or otherwise inappropriate. The Telecommunications Act has made a large impact on the ways in which the television industry is being policed, or not policed, and ultimately the ways in which the general public views television today.
The V-chip has revolutionized viewership because it took power from the institutions and gave it back to the viewer, by allowing the household television owner to clamp down on a certain type of programming. This is one way in which representations on television that are either inappropriate or problematic can be shut down by the viewers, but it requires a level of media literacy. If some small level of media literacy can be generated within the larger population, then the viewers can utilize censorship and devices such as the V-chip to take back power and remove problematic images from the screen.
Written by Mike Petronek