US ushers in telecom revolution

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Washington - After nearly a decade of trying, the US Congress yesterday enacted a massive rewriting of the country's telecommunications laws, tearing down the barriers between the telephone, broadcasting and cable companies, fusing them into a single giant electronic market for the 21st century, writes Rupert Cornwell.

The final version of the measure, passed last night by the House by 414 votes to 16 and heading for overwhelming approval in the Senate, represents the biggest changes in the industry since the mid-1930s. The bill has the strong support of the industries involved, and President Bill Clinton has indicated he will sign it into law.

Starting next year, phone, cable and TV companies will be able to compete for each other'sbusiness. Cable TV rates will be deregulated, while local phone companies will be able to offer long-distance services, competing with AT&T, MCI and Sprint. Restrictions on ownership of US media will be largely removed.

At the same time, transmission of pornographic material via computer to people under 18 years of age will be outlawed.