Publisher Summary This chapter describes the intent, general structure, and organization of the 1996 Act; the new definitions and provisions it provides; the overall duties and responsibilities it imposes on the various segments of the industry; and challenges to the Act. The Telecommunications Act Of 1996, passed by Congress on February 1, i996, and signed into law on February 8, 1996 by President William J. Clinton was the most extensive change in the US communications law in the 62 years since the Communications Act of 1934. It altered the structure and operation of the industry. It opened the local telephone markets to competition, completely reversing the historical concept of a natural monopoly in telephones. It removed divisions between technologies. For example, cable television (CATV) companies and electric and gas utilities can now provide telephone service. It affected all sectors of the telecommunications industry. It removed the restrictions imposed by prior consent decrees, including the 1956 Decree and the 1982 MFJ, which are inconsistent with the 1996 Act. Considering the breadth and depth of these changes, the 1996 Act will direct how the communications industry will be organized and will function for many years to come. Understanding the Act is critical when evaluating the opportunities available to companies in the new competitive telecommunications environment, and the restrictions that define their market strategies.