Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency
of the United States government created by statute (47
U.S.C. § 151 and 47 U.S.C. § 154) to regulate
interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and
FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband,
competition, the spectrum, the media, public safety and homeland
security, and modernizing itself.
FCC was formed by the
Communications Act of 1934
Communications Act of 1934 to replace the
radio regulation functions of the Federal Radio Commission. The FCC
took over wire communication regulation from the Interstate Commerce
Commission. The FCC's mandated jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the
District of Columbia, and the Territories of the United States. The
FCC also provides varied degrees of cooperation, oversight, and
leadership for similar communications bodies in other countries of
North America. The
FCC is funded entirely by regulatory fees. It has
an estimated fiscal-2016 budget of US $388 million. It has 1,688
federal employees, made up of 50% males and 50% females as of
1 Mission and strategy
2 Organization and procedures
3.1 Communications Act of 1934
3.2 Report on Chain Broadcasting
3.3 Freeze of 1948
Telecommunications Act of 1996
3.5 Modernization of the FCC's information technology systems
3.6 Past chairs and notable commissioners
4 Media policy
Broadcast television and radio
4.2 Cable and satellite
4.3 Content regulation and indecency
4.4 Media ownership
4.5 Digital television transition
5 Wireline policy
5.1.1 From monopoly to competition
5.2.1 Net neutrality
5.3 NSA wiretapping
6 Wireless policy
6.1 Commercial mobile service
6.1.1 Spectrum auctions
6.2 Unlicensed spectrum
6.2.1 White spaces
6.3 Amateur radio
6.4 Broadcasting tower database
6.5 Criticism for use of proprietary standards
7 Public consultation
7.1 History of the issue
7.1.1 1927 Radio Act
7.1.2 Public hearings
8 See also
8.1 Media Policy
8.3 Wireless Policy
9.2 Further reading
10 External links
Mission and strategy
The FCC's mission, specified in Section One of the Communications Act
of 1934 and amended by the
Telecommunications Act of 1996
Telecommunications Act of 1996 (amendment
to 47 U.S.C. §151) is to "make available so far as possible, to all
the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis
of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient,
Nationwide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with
adequate facilities at reasonable charges."
The Act furthermore provides that the
FCC was created "for the purpose
of the national defense" and "for the purpose of promoting safety of
life and property through the use of wire and radio
Consistent with the objectives of the Act as well as the 1993
Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), the
FCC has identified
six goals in its 2006–2011 Strategic Plan. These are:
"All Americans should have affordable access to robust and reliable
broadband products and services. Regulatory policies must promote
technological neutrality, competition, investment, and innovation to
ensure that broadband service providers have sufficient incentives to
develop and offer such products and services."
Competition in the provision of communication services, both
domestically and overseas, supports the Nation's economy. The
competitive framework for communications services should foster
innovation and offer consumers reliable, meaningful choice in
"Efficient and effective use of non-federal spectrum domestically and
internationally promotes the growth and rapid development of
innovative and efficient communication technologies and services."
"The Nation's media regulations must promote competition and diversity
and facilitate the transition to digital modes of delivery."
Public Safety and Homeland Security
"Communications during emergencies and crisis must be available for
public safety, health, defense, and emergency personnel, as well as
all consumers in need. The Nation's critical communications
infrastructure must be reliable, interoperable, redundant, and rapidly
Modernize the FCC
"The Commission shall strive to be highly productive, adaptive, and
innovative organization that maximizes the benefits to stakeholders,
staff, and management from effective systems, processes, resources,
and organizational culture." (2008).
Organization and procedures
FCC is directed by five commissioners appointed by the President
of the United States and confirmed by the
United States Senate
United States Senate for
five-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term. The U.S.
President designates one of the commissioners to serve as chairman.
Only three commissioners may be members of the same political party.
None of them may have a financial interest in any FCC-related
State of Residence
Max. Extended Time†
June 30, 2021
Jan. 3, 2023
June 30, 2017
Jan. 3, 2019
June 30, 2018
Jan. 3, 2020
June 30, 2019
Jan. 3, 2021
June 30, 2020
Jan. 3, 2022
† Commissioners may continue serving until the appointment of their
replacements. However, they may not serve beyond the end of the next
session of Congress following term expiration. In practice, this
means that commissioners may serve up to 1 1/2 years beyond the
official term expiration dates listed above if no replacement is
appointed. This would end on the date that Congress adjourns its
annual session, generally no later than noon on January 3.
FCC is organized into seven Bureaus, which process applications
for licenses and other filings, analyze complaints, conduct
investigations, develop and implement regulations, and participate in
The Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) develops and
implements the FCC's consumer policies, including disability access.
CGB serves as the public face of the
FCC through outreach and
education, as well as through their Consumer Center, which is
responsible for responding to consumer inquiries and complaints. CGB
also maintains collaborative partnerships with state, local, and
tribal governments in such areas as emergency preparedness and
implementation of new technologies.
The Enforcement Bureau (EB) is responsible for enforcement of
provisions of the Communications Act 1934,
FCC orders, and
terms and conditions of station authorizations. Major areas of
enforcement that are handled by the Enforcement Bureau are consumer
protection, local competition, public safety, and homeland security.
The International Bureau (IB) develops international policies in
telecommunications, such as coordination of frequency allocation and
orbital assignments so as to minimize cases of international
electromagnetic interference involving U.S. licensees. The
International Bureau also oversees
FCC compliance with the
Radio Regulations and other international agreements.
The Media Bureau (MB) develops, recommends and administers the policy
and licensing programs relating to electronic media, including cable
television, broadcast television, and radio in the United States and
its territories. The Media Bureau also handles post-licensing matters
regarding direct broadcast satellite service.
Telecommunications Bureau regulates domestic wireless
telecommunications programs and policies, including licensing. The
bureau also implements competitive bidding for spectrum auctions and
regulates wireless communications services including mobile phones,
public safety, and other commercial and private radio services.
Competition Bureau (WCB) develops policy concerning wire
line telecommunications. The Wireline
Competition Bureau's main
objective is to promote growth and economical investments in wireline
technology infrastructure, development, markets, and services.
The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau was launched in 2006
with a focus on critical communications infrastructure.
FCC has eleven Staff Offices. The FCC's Offices provide support
services to the Bureaus.
The Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) is responsible for
conducting hearings ordered by the Commission. The hearing function
includes acting on interlocutory requests filed in the proceedings
such as petitions to intervene, petitions to enlarge issues, and
contested discovery requests. An Administrative Law Judge, appointed
under the Administrative Procedure Act, presides at the hearing during
which documents and sworn testimony are received in evidence, and
witnesses are cross-examined. At the conclusion of the evidentiary
phase of a proceeding, the presiding Administrative Law Judge writes
and issues an Initial Decision which may be appealed to the
The Office of Communications Business Opportunities (OCBO) promotes
telecommunications business opportunities for small, minority-owned,
and women-owned businesses. OCBO works with entrepreneurs, industry,
public interest organizations, individuals, and others to provide
FCC policies, increase ownership and employment
opportunities, foster a diversity of voices and viewpoints over the
airwaves, and encourage participation in
The Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) advises the Commission
concerning engineering matters.
Its chief role is to manage the electromagnetic spectrum, specifically
frequency allocation and spectrum usage. OET conducts technical
studies of advanced phases of terrestrial and space communications and
FCC rules regarding radio devices, experimental radio
services, and industrial, scientific, and medical equipment.
OET organizes the Technical Advisory Council, a committee of FCC
advisors from major telecommunication and media corporations.
OET operates the Equipment Authorization Branch, which has the task of
overseeing equipment authorization for all devices using the
electromagnetic energy from 9 kHz to 300 GHz. OET maintains
an electronic database of all Certified equipment which can be easily
accessed by the public.
The Office of General Counsel serves as the chief legal adviser to the
Commission. The General Counsel also represents the Commission in
litigation in United States federal courts, recommends decisions in
adjudicatory matters before the Commission, assists the Commission in
its decision making capacity and performs a variety of legal functions
regarding internal and other administrative matters.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recommends policies to
prevent fraud in agency operations. The Inspector General recommends
corrective action where appropriate, referring criminal matters to the
United States Department of Justice
United States Department of Justice for potential prosecution.
The Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA) is the FCC's liaison to the
United States Congress, providing lawmakers with information about FCC
regulations. OLA also prepares
FCC witnesses for Congressional
hearings, and helps create
FCC responses to legislative proposals and
Congressional inquiries. In addition, OLA is a liaison to other
federal agencies, as well as state and local governments.
The Office of the Managing Director (OMD) is responsible for the
administration and management of the FCC, including the agency's
budget, personnel, security, contracts, and publications.
The Office of Media Relations (OMR) is responsible for the
dissemination of Commission announcements, orders, proceedings, and
other information per media requests. OMR manages the
Digest, website, and Audio Visual Center.
The Office of the Secretary (OSEC) oversees the receipt and
distribution of documents filed by the public through electronic and
paper filing systems and the
FCC Library collection. In addition, OSEC
publishes legal notices of Commission decisions in the Federal
Register and the
The Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis (OSP),
essentially a think tank within the FCC, identifies policy objectives
for the agency. OSP works closely with the
FCC Chairman and is
responsible for monitoring the state of the communications industry to
identify trends, issues and overall industry health. OSP acts as
expert consultants to the Commission in areas of economic, business,
and market analysis. The Office also reviews legal trends and
developments not necessarily related to current
FCC proceedings, such
as intellectual property law, the Internet, and electronic commerce.
Previously OSP was called the Office of Plans and Policy (OPP). OSP is
also the home of the FCC's Chief Economist and the Chief Technologist.
The Office of Workplace Diversity (OWD) develops policy to provide a
full and fair opportunity for all employees, regardless of non-merit
factors such as race, religion, gender, color, age, disability, sexual
orientation or national origin, to carry out their duties in the
workplace free from unlawful discriminatory treatment, including
sexual harassment and retaliation for engaging in legally protected
Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C.
FCC leases space in the Portals building in southwest Washington,
D.C. Construction of the Portals building was scheduled to begin on
March 1, 1996. In January 1996 the General Services Administration
signed a lease with the building's owners, agreeing to let the FCC
lease 450,000 square feet (42,000 m2) of space in Portals for 20
years, at a cost of $17.3 million per year in 1996 dollars. Prior to
its current arrangement, the
FCC had space in six buildings by 19th
Street NW and M Street NW. The
FCC first solicited bids for a new
headquarters complex in 1989. In 1991 the GSA selected the Portals
FCC had wanted to move into a more expensive area along
Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commission seen in Washington, D.C., in 1937.
Seated (l-r) Eugene Octave Sykes, Frank R. McNinch, Chairman Paul
Atlee Walker, Standing (l-r) T.A.M. Craven, Thad H. Brown, Norman S.
Case, and George Henry Payne.
FCC Commissioners inspect the latest in television, December 1, 1939.
Communications Act of 1934
In 1934, Congress passed the Communications Act, which abolished the
Federal Radio Commission and transferred jurisdiction over radio
licensing to a new Federal Communications Commission, including in it
also the telecommunications jurisdiction previously handled by the
Interstate Commerce Commission.
Title II of the Communications Act focused on telecommunications using
many concepts borrowed from railroad legislation and Title III
contained provisions very similar to the Radio Act of 1927.
Report on Chain Broadcasting
In 1940, the
Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commission issued the "Report on
Chain Broadcasting" which was led by new
FCC Chairman James Lawrence
Telford Taylor as general counsel). The major point in the
report was the breakup of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC),
which ultimately led to the creation of the American Broadcasting
Company (ABC), but there were two other important points. One was
network option time, the culprit here being the Columbia Broadcasting
System (CBS). The report limited the amount of time during the day and
at what times the networks may broadcast. Previously a network could
demand any time it wanted from an affiliate. The second concerned
artist bureaus. The networks served as both agents and employers of
artists, which was a conflict of interest the report rectified.
Freeze of 1948
In assigning television stations to various cities after World War II,
FCC found that it placed many stations too close to each other,
resulting in interference. At the same time, it became clear that the
VHF channels, 2 through 13, were inadequate for nationwide
television service. As a result, the
FCC stopped giving out
construction permits for new licenses in October 1948, under the
direction of chairman Rosel H. Hyde. Most expected this "Freeze" to
last six months, but as the allocation of channels to the emerging UHF
technology and the eagerly awaited possibilities of color television
were debated, the FCC's re-allocation map of stations did not come
until April 1952, with July 1, 1952, as the official beginning of
licensing new stations.
FCC actions hurt the fledgling DuMont and ABC networks. American
Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) forced television coaxial cable
users to rent additional radio long lines, discriminating against
DuMont, which had no radio network operation. DuMont and ABC protested
AT&T's television policies to the FCC, which regulated AT&T's
long-line charges, but the commission took no action. The result was
that financially marginal DuMont was spending as much in long-line
NBC while using only about 10 to 15 percent of the
time and mileage of either larger network.
The FCC's "Sixth Report & Order" ended the Freeze. It would take
five years for the U.S. to grow from 108 stations to more than 550.
New stations came on line slowly, only five by the end of November
1952. The Sixth Report and Order required some existing TV stations to
change channels, but only a few existing
VHF stations were required to
move to UHF, and a handful of
VHF channels were deleted altogether in
smaller media markets like Peoria, Fresno, Bakersfield and Fort Wayne,
Indiana to create markets which were
UHF "islands." The report also
set aside a number of channels for the newly emerging field of
educational television, which hindered struggling ABC and DuMont's
quest for affiliates in the more desirable markets where
were reserved for non-commercial use.
The Sixth Report and Order also provided for the "intermixture" of VHF
UHF channels in most markets;
UHF transmitters in the 1950s were
not yet powerful enough, nor receivers sensitive enough (if they
UHF tuners at all - they were not formally required until the
1960s All-Channel Receiver Act), to make
UHF viable against entrenched
VHF stations. In markets where there were no
VHF stations and
the only TV service available,
UHF survived. In other markets, which
were too small to financially support a television station, too close
VHF outlets in nearby cities, or where
UHF was forced to compete
with more than one well-established
UHF had little chance
Denver had been the largest U.S. city without a TV station by 1952.
Senator Edwin Johnson (D-Colorado), chair of the Senate's Interstate
and Foreign Commerce Committee, had made it his personal mission to
make Denver the first post-Freeze station. The Senator had pressured
the FCC, and proved ultimately successful as the first new station (a
VHF station) came on-line a remarkable ten days after the Commission
formally announced the first post-Freeze construction permits. KFEL
(now KWGN-TV)'s first regular telecast was on July 21, 1952.
Telecommunications Act of 1996
Telecommunications Act of 1996
In 1996, Congress enacted the
Telecommunications Act of 1996, in the
wake of the break-up of AT&T resulting from the U.S. Department of
Justice's antitrust suit against AT&T. The legislation attempted
to create more competition in local telephone service by requiring
Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers to provide access to their
facilities for Competitive Local Exchange Carriers. This policy has
thus far had limited success and much criticism.
The development of the Internet, cable services and wireless services
has raised questions whether new legislative initiates are needed as
to competition in what has come to be called 'broadband' services.
Congress has monitored developments but as of 2009 has not undertaken
a major revision of applicable regulation. The Local Community Radio
Act in the 111th Congress has gotten out of committee and will go
before the house floor with bi-partisan support, and unanimous
support of the FCC.
By passing the
Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress also
eliminated the cap on the number of radio stations any one entity
could own nationwide and also substantially loosened local radio
station ownership restrictions. Substantial radio consolidation
followed. Restrictions on ownership of television stations were
also loosened. Public comments to the
FCC indicated that the
public largely believed that the severe consolidation of media
ownership had resulted in harm to diversity, localism, and competition
in media, and was harmful to the public interest.
Modernization of the FCC's information technology systems
David A. Bray joined the Commission in 2013 as Chief Information
Officer and quickly announced goals of modernizing the FCC's legacy
information technology (IT) systems, citing 200 different systems for
only 1750 people a situation he found "perplexing". These
efforts later were documented in a 2015 Harvard Case Study. In
2017, Christine Calvosa replaced Bray as the CIO of FCC.
Past chairs and notable commissioners
Main article: List of chairmen of the Federal Communications
A complete list of commissioners is available on the
Frieda B. Hennock (D-NY) was the first female
commissioner of the FCC.
Broadcast television and radio
FCC regulates broadcast stations, repeater stations as well as
commercial broadcasting operators who operate and repair certain
radiotelephone, television and radio stations. Broadcast licenses are
to be renewed if the station meets the "public interest, convenience,
or necessity". The FCC's enforcement powers include
fines and broadcast license revocation (see
FCC MB Docket 04-232).
Burden of proof would be on the complainant in a petition to deny.
Fewer than 1% of station renewals are not immediately granted, and
only a small fraction of those are ultimately denied.
Cable and satellite
FCC first promulgated rules for cable television in 1965, with
cable and satellite television now regulated by the
FCC under Title VI
of the Communications Act. Congress added Title VI in the Cable
Communications Policy Act of 1984, and made substantial modifications
to Title VI in the Cable Television and Consumer Protection and
Competition Act of 1992. Further modifications to promote cross-modal
competition (telephone, video, etc.) were made in the
Telecommunications Act of 1996, leading to the current regulatory
Content regulation and indecency
Broadcast television and radio stations are subject to
including restrictions against indecency or obscenity. The Supreme
Court has repeatedly held, beginning soon after the passage of the
Communications Act of 1934, that the inherent scarcity of radio
spectrum allows the government to impose some types of content
restrictions on broadcast license holders notwithstanding the First
Amendment. Cable and satellite providers are also subject to some
content regulations under Title VI of the Communications Act such as
the prohibition on obscenity, although the limitations are not as
restrictive compared to broadcast stations.
The 1981 inauguration of
Ronald Reagan as President of the United
States accelerated an already ongoing shift in the
FCC towards a
decidedly more market-oriented stance. A number of regulations felt to
be outdated were removed, most controversially the Fairness Doctrine
In terms of indecency fines, there was no action taken by the
FCC v. Pacifica until 1987, about ten years after the
landmark United States Supreme Court decision that defined the power
FCC over indecent material as applied to broadcasting.
After the 1990s had passed, the
FCC began to increase its censorship
and enforcement of indecency regulations in the early 2000s to include
a response to the
Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" that occurred
during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Then on June 15, 2006, President
George W. Bush
George W. Bush signed into law the
Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 sponsored by then-Senator
Sam Brownback (now Governor of Kansas), a former broadcaster himself,
and endorsed by Congressman
Fred Upton of
Michigan who authored a
similar bill in the United States House of Representatives. The new
law stiffens the penalties for each violation of the Act. The Federal
Communications Commission will be able to impose fines in the amount
of $325,000 for each violation by each station that violates decency
standards. The legislation raised the fine ten times over the previous
maximum of $32,500 per violation.
Main article: Media cross-ownership in the United States
FCC has established rules limiting the national share of media
ownership of broadcast television or radio stations. It has also
established cross-ownership rules limiting ownership of a newspaper
and broadcast station in the same market, in order to ensure a
diversity of viewpoints in each market and serve the needs of each
With the major demographic shifts occurring in the country in terms of
the racial-ethnic composition of the population, the
FCC has been
criticized for ignoring the issue of decreasing racial-ethnic
diversity of the media. This includes charges that the
FCC has been
watering down the limited affirmative action regulations it had on the
books, including no longer requiring stations to make public their
data on their minority staffing and hiring. In the second half of
2006, groups such as the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the
National Latino Media Council, the National Association of Hispanic
Journalists, the National Institute for Latino Policy, the League of
United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and others held town hall
meetings in California, New York and Texas on media diversity as
its effects Latinos and minority communities. They documented
widespread and deeply felt community concerns about the negative
effects of media concentration and consolidation on racial-ethnic
diversity in staffing and programming. At these Latino town hall
meetings, the issue of the FCC's lax monitoring of obscene and
pornographic material in Spanish-language radio and the lack of racial
and national-origin diversity among Latino staff in Spanish-language
television were other major themes.
Barack Obama appointed
Mark Lloyd to the
FCC in the newly
created post of Associate General Counsel/Chief Diversity
After being successful in opening the FM band as a superior
alternative to the AM band by allowing colleges and other schools to
LPFM stations, the
FCC banned new ones around
Numerous controversies have surrounded the city of license concept as
the internet has made it possible to broadcast a single signal to
every owned station in the nation at once, particularly when Clear
Channel, now IHeartMedia, became the largest FM broadcasting
corporation in the US after the
Telecommunications Act of 1996
Telecommunications Act of 1996 became
law - owning over 1200 stations at its peak. As part of its license to
buy more radio stations, Clear Channel was forced to divest all TV
Digital television transition
To facilitate the adoption of digital television, the
FCC issued a
second digital TV (DTV) channel to each holder of an analog TV station
license. All stations were required to buy and install all new
equipment (transmitters, TV antennas, and even entirely new broadcast
towers), and operate for years on both channels. Each licensee was
required to return one of their two channels following the end of the
digital television transition.
After delaying the original deadlines of 2006, 2008, and eventually
February 17, 2009, on concerns about elderly and rural folk, on June
12, 2009 all full-power analog terrestrial TV licenses in the U.S.
were terminated as part of the DTV transition, leaving terrestrial
television available only from digital channels and a few low-power
LPTV stations. To help U.S. consumers through the conversion, Congress
established a federally sponsored DTV Converter Box Coupon Program for
two free converters per household.
FCC regulates telecommunications services under Title II of the
Communications Act of 1934. Title II imposes common carrier regulation
under which carriers offering their services to the general public
must provide services to all customers and may not discriminate based
on the identity of the customer or the content of the communication.
This is similar to and adapted from regulation of transportation
providers (railroad, airline, shipping, etc.) and some public
utilities. Wireless carriers providing telecommunications services are
also generally subject to Title II regulation except as exempted by
FCC regulates interstate telephone services under Title II. The
Telecommunications Act of 1996
Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first major legislative reform
since the 1934 Act and took several steps to de-regulate the telephone
market and promote competition in both the local and long-distance
From monopoly to competition
See also: History of AT&T
The important relationship of the
FCC and the American Telephone and
Telegraph (AT&T) Company evolved over the decades. For many years,
FCC and state officials agreed to regulate the telephone system as
a natural monopoly. The
FCC controlled telephone rates and imposed
other restrictions under Title II to limit the profits of AT&T and
ensure nondiscriminatory pricing.
In the 1960s, the
FCC began allowing other long-distance companies,
namely MCI, to offer specialized services. In the 1970s, the FCC
allowed other companies to expand offerings to the public. A
lawsuit in 1982 led by the Justice Department after AT&T
underpriced other companies, resulted in the Breakup of the Bell
System from AT&T. Beginning in 1984, the
FCC implemented a new
goal that all long-distance companies had equal access to the local
phone companies' customers. Effective January 1, 1984, the Bell
System’s many member-companies were variously merged into seven
independent "Regional Holding Companies", also known as Regional Bell
Operating Companies (RBOCs), or "Baby Bells". This divestiture reduced
the book value of AT&T by approximately 70%.
FCC initially exempted "information services" such as broadband
Internet access from regulation under Title II. The
FCC held that
information services were distinct from telecommunications services
that are subject to common carrier regulation.
However, Section 706 of the
Telecommunications Act of 1996
Telecommunications Act of 1996 required
FCC to help accelerate deployment of "advanced telecommunications
capability" which included high-quality voice, data, graphics, and
video, and to regularly assess its availability. In August 2015, the
FCC said that nearly 55 million Americans did not have access to
broadband capable of delivering high-quality voice, data, graphics and
On February 26, 2015, the
FCC reclassified broadband
as a telecommunications service, thus subjecting it to Title II
regulation, although several exemptions were also created. The
reclassification was done in order to give the
FCC a legal basis for
imposing net neutrality rules (see below), after earlier attempts to
impose such rules on an "information service" had been overturned in
Net neutrality in the United States
In 2005, the
FCC formally established the following principles: To
encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and
interconnected nature of the public Internet, Consumers are entitled
to access the lawful
Internet content of their choice; Consumers are
entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject
to the needs of law enforcement; Consumers are entitled to connect
their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; Consumers
are entitled to competition among network providers, application and
service providers, and content providers. However, broadband providers
were permitted to engage in "reasonable network management."[citation
On August 1, 2008 the
FCC formally voted 3-to-2 to uphold a complaint
against Comcast, the largest cable company in the US, ruling that it
had illegally inhibited users of its high-speed
Internet service from
using file-sharing software. The
FCC imposed no fine, but required
Comcast to end such blocking in 2008.
FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin
said the order was meant to set a precedent that
and indeed all communications companies, could not prevent customers
from using their networks the way they see fit unless there is a good
reason. In an interview Martin stated that "We are preserving the open
character of the Internet" and "We are saying that network operators
can't block people from getting access to any content and any
applications." Martin's successor,
Julius Genachowski has maintained
FCC has no plans to regulate the internet, saying: "I've been
clear repeatedly that we're not going to regulate the Internet."
Comcast case highlighted broader issues of whether new legislation
is needed to force
Internet providers to maintain net neutrality, i.e.
treat all uses of their networks equally. The legal complaint against
Comcast related to BitTorrent, software that is commonly used for
downloading larger files.
In December 2010, the
FCC revised the principles from the original
Internet policy statement and adopted the Open
consisting of three rules regarding the Internet: Transparency.
Fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network
management practices, performance characteristics, and terms and
conditions of their broadband services; No blocking. Fixed broadband
providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or
non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful
websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video
telephony services; and No unreasonable discrimination.
On January 14, 2014 Verizon won their lawsuit over the
FCC in the
United States Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia
District of Columbia Court.
Verizon was suing over increased regulation on internet service
providers on the grounds that "even though the Commission has general
authority to regulate in this arena, it may not impose requirements
that contravene express statutory mandates. Given that the Commission
has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts
them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act
expressly prohibits the Commission from nonetheless regulating them as
After these setbacks in court, in April 2014 the
FCC issued a Notice
of Proposed Rulemaking regarding a path forward for The Open Internet
Order. On November 10, 2014, President Obama recommended the FCC
Internet service as a telecommunications service
in order to preserve net neutrality.
On February 26, 2015, the
FCC ruled in favor of net neutrality by
applying Title II (common carrier) of the Communications Act of 1934
and Section 706 of the
Telecommunications act of 1996 to the
The rules prompted debate about the applicability of First Amendment
Internet service providers and edge providers.
Ajit Pai said the Open
Internet Order "posed a
special danger" to "First Amendment speech, freedom of expression,
[and] even freedom of association." Democratic member and
Tom Wheeler said in response that the rules were "no
more a plan to regulate the
Internet than the First Amendment is a
plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same
concept." According to a Washington Post poll, 81% of Americans
supported net neutrality in 2014. According to the poll, 81% of
Democrats and 85% of Republicans said they opposed fast lanes.
On March 12, 2015, the
FCC released the specific details of the net
neutrality rules. On April 13, 2015, the
FCC published the
final rule on its new "Net Neutrality" regulations.
On April 27, 2017,
Ajit Pai released a draft Notice of
Proposed Rulemaking that would revise the legal foundation for the
Internet regulations. The NPRM was voted on at the May
18th Open Meeting. On December 14, the Commission voted 3-2 in
favor of passing the repeal of the 2015 rules.
When it emerged in 2006 that AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon may have
broken U.S. laws by aiding the
National Security Agency
National Security Agency in possible
illegal wiretapping of its customers, Congressional representatives
called for an
FCC investigation into whether or not those companies
broke the law. The
FCC declined to investigate, however, claiming that
it could not investigate due to the classified nature of the
program– a move that provoked the criticism of members of Congress.
"Today the watchdog agency that oversees the country's
telecommunications industry refused to investigate the nation's
largest phone companies' reported disclosure of phone records to the
NSA," said Rep.
Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in response to the decision.
"The FCC, which oversees the protection of consumer privacy under the
Communications Act of 1934, has taken a pass at investigating what is
estimated to be the nation's largest violation of consumer privacy
ever to occur. If the oversight body that monitors our nation's
communications is stepping aside then Congress must step in."
FCC regulates all non-Federal uses of radio frequency spectrum in
the United States under Title III of the Communications Act of 1934.
In addition to over-the-air broadcast television and radio stations,
this includes commercial mobile (i.e., mobile phone) services, amateur
radio, citizen's band radio, theatrical wireless microphone
installations, and a very wide variety of other services. Use of radio
spectrum by U.S. federal government agencies is coordinated by the
Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency
within the Department of Commerce.
Commercial mobile service
Commercial mobile radio service (CMRS) providers, including all mobile
phone carriers, are subject to spectrum and wireless regulations under
Title III (similar to broadcasters) as well as common carrier
regulations under Title II (similar to wireline telephone carriers),
except as provided by the FCC.
Main article: Spectrum auction § United States
Beginning in 1994, the
FCC has usually assigned commercial spectrum
licenses through the use of competitive bidding, i.e., spectrum
auctions. These auctions have raised tens of billions of dollars for
the U.S. Treasury, and the FCC's auction approach is now widely
emulated throughout the world. The
FCC typically obtains spectrum for
auction that has been reclaimed from other uses, such as spectrum
returned by television broadcasters after the digital television
transition, or spectrum made available by federal agencies able to
shift their operations to other bands.
Normally, any intentional radio transmission requires an
pursuant to Title III. However, in recent decades the
FCC has also
opened some spectrum bands for unlicensed operations, typically
restricting them to low power levels conducive to short-range
applications. This has facilitated the development of a very wide
range of common technologies from wireless garage door openers,
cordless phones, and baby monitors to
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth among
others. However, unlicensed devices — like most radio transmission
equipment — must still receive technical approval from the FCC
before being sold into the marketplace, including to ensure that such
devices cannot be modified by end users to increase transmit power
"White spaces" are radio frequencies that went unused after the
federally mandated transformation of analog TV signal to digital. On
October 15, 2008,
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced his support for
the unlicensed use of white spaces. Martin said he was "hoping to take
advantage of utilizing these airwaves for broadband services to allow
for unlicensed technologies and new innovations in that space."
Microsoft and other companies are vying for the use of this
white-space to support innovation in
Wi-Fi technology. Broadcasters
and wireless microphone manufacturers fear that the use of white space
would "disrupt their broadcasts and the signals used in sports events
and concerts." Cell phone providers such as T-Mobile USA have
mounted pressure on the
FCC to instead offer up the white space for
sale to boost competition and market leverage.
On November 4, 2008, the
FCC commissioners unanimously agreed to open
up unused broadcast TV spectrum for unlicensed use.
Amateur radio operators in the United States must be licensed by the
FCC before transmitting. While the
FCC maintains control of the
written testing standards, it no longer administers the exams, having
delegated that function to private volunteer organizations. No
amateur license class still requires examination in Morse code;
FCC nor the volunteer organizations still test code skills
for amateur licenses (commercial license examiners do test code skills
for the Radiotelegraph Operator license).
Broadcasting tower database
FCC database provides information about the height and year built
of broadcasting towers in the US. It does not contain information
about the structural types of towers or about the height of towers
used by Federal agencies, such as most NDBs,
VLF transmission facilities of the US Navy, or about most
towers not used for transmission like the BREN Tower. These are
instead tracked by the
Federal Aviation Administration
Federal Aviation Administration as obstructions
to air navigation.
Criticism for use of proprietary standards
FCC has been criticized for ignoring international open standards,
and instead choosing proprietary closed standards, or allowing
communications companies to do so and implement the anticompetitive
practice of vendor lock-in, thereby preventing a free market.[citation
In the case of digital TV, it chose the
ATSC standard, even though DVB
was already in use around the world, including
DVB-S satellite TV in
the U.S. Unlike competing standards, the
ATSC system is encumbered by
numerous patents, and therefore royalties that make TV sets and DTV
converters much more expensive than in the rest of the world.
Additionally, the claimed benefit of better reception in rural areas
is more than negated in urban areas by multipath interference, which
other systems are nearly immune to. It also cannot be received while
in motion for this reason, while all other systems can, even without
dedicated mobile TV signals or receivers.
For digital radio, the
FCC chose proprietary HD Radio, which crowds
FM broadcast band
FM broadcast band and even
AM broadcast band
AM broadcast band with in-band
adjacent-channel sidebands, which create noise in other stations. This
is in contrast to worldwide DAB, which uses unused TV channels in the
VHF band III range. This too has patent fees, while DAB does not.
While there has been some effort by iBiquity to lower them, the
HD Radio are still an enormous expense when converting each
station, and this fee structure presents a potentially high cost
barrier to entry for community radio and other non-commercial
educational stations when entering the
HD Radio market.
Satellite radio (also called
SDARS by the FCC) uses two proprietary
standards instead of DAB-S, which requires users to change equipment
when switching from one provider to the other, and prevents other
competitors from offering new choices as stations can do on
terrestrial radio. Had the
FCC picked DAB-T for terrestrial radio, no
separate satellite receiver would have been needed at all, and the
only difference from DAB receivers in the rest of the world would be
the need to tune
S band instead of L band.
In mobile telephony, the
FCC abandoned the "any lawful device"
principle decided against AT&T landlines, and has instead allowed
each mobile phone company to dictate what its customers can
As the public interest standard has always been important to the FCC
when determining and shaping policy, so too has the relevance of
public involvement in U.S. communication policy making. The FCC
Record is the comprehensive compilation of decisions, reports, public
notices, and other documents of the FCC, published since 1986.
History of the issue
1927 Radio Act
In the 1927 Radio Act, which was formulated by the predecessor of the
FCC (the Federal Radio Commission), section 4(k) stipulated that the
commission was authorized to hold hearings for the purpose of
developing a greater understanding of the issues for which rules were
being crafted. Section 4(k) stated that:
Except as otherwise provided in this Act, the commission, from time to
time, as public convenience, interest, or necessity requires, shall…
have the authority to hold hearings, summon witnesses, administer
oaths, compel the production of books, documents, and papers and to
make such investigations as may be necessary in the performance of its
Thus, it is clear that public consultation, or at least consultation
with outside bodies was regarded as central to the Commission's job
from early on. Though it should not be surprising, the Act also
stipulated that the Commission should verbally communicate with those
being assigned licenses. Section 11 of the Act noted:
If upon examination of any application for a station license or for
the renewal or modification of a station license the licensing
authority shall determine that public interest, convenience, or
necessity would be served by the granting thereof, it shall authorize
the issuance, renewal, or modification thereof in accordance with said
finding. In the event the licensing authority upon examination of any
such application does not reach such decision with respect thereto, it
shall notify the applicant thereof, shall fix and give notice of a
time and place for hearing thereon, and shall afford such applicant an
opportunity to be heard under such rules and regulations as it may
As early as 1927, there is evidence that public hearings were indeed
held; among them, hearings to assess the expansion of the radio
broadcast band. At these early hearings, the goal of having a
broad range of viewpoints presented was evident, as not only
broadcasters, but also radio engineers and manufacturers were in
attendance. Numerous groups representing the general public appeared
at the hearings as well, including amateur radio operators and
inventors as well as representatives of radio listeners'
While some speakers at the 1927 hearings referred to having received
"invitations," Herbert Hoover's assistant observed in a letter at the
time that "the Radio Commission has sent out a blanket invitation to
all people in the country who desire either to appear in person or to
submit their recommendations in writing. I do not understand that the
Commission has sent for any particular individuals, however" [Letter
from George Akerson, assistant to Sec. Hoover, to Mrs. James T.
Rourke, Box 497, Commerce Period Papers, Herbert Hoover Presidential
Library (March 29, 1927)] (FN 14)
Including members of the general public in the discussion was regarded
(or at least articulated) as very important to the Commission's
deliberations. In fact,
FCC Commissioner Bellows noted at the time
that "it is the radio listener we must consider above everyone
else." Though there were numerous representatives of the general
public at the hearing, some expressing their opinions to the
commission verbally, overall there was not a great turnout of everyday
listeners at the hearings.
Though not a constant fixture of the communications policy-making
process, public hearings were occasionally organized as a part of
various deliberation processes as the years progressed. For example,
seven years after the enactment of the Radio Act, the Communications
Act of 1934 was passed, creating the FCC. That year the Federal
Government's National Recovery Agency (associated with the New Deal
period) held public hearings as a part of its deliberations over the
creation of new broadcasting codes.
A few years later[when?], the
FCC held hearings to address early
cross-ownership issues; specifically, whether newspaper companies
owning radio stations was in the public interest. These "newspaper
divorcement hearings" were held between 1941 and 1944, though it
appears that these hearings were geared mostly towards discussion by
industry stakeholders. Around the same time, the Commission held
hearings as a part of its evaluation of the national television
standard, and in 1958 held additional hearings on the television
network broadcasting rules. Though public hearings were organized
somewhat infrequently, there was an obvious public appeal. In his now
famous "vast wasteland" speech in 1961,
FCC Chairman Newton Minow
noted that the commission would hold a "well advertised public
hearing" in each community to assure broadcasters were serving the
public interest, clearly a move to reconnect the Commission with
the public interest (at least rhetorically).
Television in the United States portal
Government of the United States portal
1978 Broadcast Policy Statement on minority ownership
Broadcast Standards and Practices (US)
Censorship of broadcasting in the United States
Public Broadcasting Act of 1967
Public, educational, and government access (PEG)
Comcast Corp. v. FCC
National broadband plans from around the world
Frequency assignment authority
Part 15 (
List of telecommunications regulatory bodies
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FCC Doesn't Need to Be By Peter Suderman, April 5, 2010
New Wave: The case for killing the
FCC and selling off spectrum By
Jack Shafer, January 17, 2007
FCC Hits Chinese Company C.T.S. Technology Co. Ltd with Record Fine
for Selling Signal Jammers from the pcmag
Harvey J. Levin: Pioneering the Economics of the Airwaves
The Invisible Resource: Use and Regulation of the Radio Spectrum
Papers of Robert E. Lee, Commissioner of the FCC, 1953–1981, Dwight
D. Eisenhower Presidential Library
The Federal Communications Commission: Current Structure and Its Role
in the Changing
Telecommunications Landscape Congressional Research
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