The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is a large, independent United States government agency. On June 19, 1934, Congress enacted legislation establishing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This important legislation made the administrative duties of regulating broadcasting and wired communications into a single agency. The FCC had three divisions: broadcast, telegraph, and telephone. Its prime directive was to create “a rapid, efficient, nationwide, and worldwide wire and radio communication service.” The FCC’s first seven commissioners and 233 employees soon began to consolidate the rules and procedures from three other agencies:
- Federal Radio Commission
- Interstate Commerce Commission
- Postmaster General into one agency
FCC has jurisdiction in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions such as Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the American Virgin Islands.
The FCC has grown a great deal over the years. With more than nearly 2,000 employees, it had added to its original mandate, with oversight responsibilities in new communications technologies such as satellite, microwave, and private radio communications. There are six major sections of the 1934 Act, called “titles.” They are:
- Title I: This section describes the administration, formation, and powers of the FCC.
- Title II: This section is about common carrier regulation.
- Title III: This section concerns broadcast station requirements.
- Titles IV and V: These two sections deal with judicial review and enforcement of the Act.
- Title VI: This section describes various provisions of the Act including amendments to the Act and the emergency war powers of the president. It also extends FCC power to regulate cable television.
The 1934 Act restricts FCC regulatory authority to interstate and international common carriers. For purposes of the Act, telephone and microwave communications are deemed common carriers.
Many of the prototypes for broadcasting regulations were created before the 1934 Act by the Federal Radio Commission. Sections 303-307 defines many of the FCC’s powers related to broadcasting. Other sections either put limits on FCC’s authority or some of the activities of broadcasters:
- The FCC may not censor broadcast stations.
- Individuals may not uttering obscene or indecent language over a broadcast station.
- The “Equal Time Rule” requires broadcasters to provide an equal opportunity to candidates seeking political office.
- Under the “Fairness Doctrine,” broadcasters must allow for rebuttal of controversial viewpoints.
The 1934 Act has been amended many times. Communication technology has changed dramatically during the FCC’s history. These changes include the introduction of the following:
- satellite and microwave communications
- cable television
- cellular telephone
- PCS (personal communications) services
FCC responsibilities have increased to accommodate the regulatory issues presented by these new technologies. Consequently, it now shares regulatory power with other federal, executive, and judicial agencies.
The FCC oversees all broadcasting regulation. The FCC can license operators of telecommunication services and has recently used auctions as a means of determining who would be awarded licenses for personal communications services. The FCC enforces the requirements for wire and wireless communications through its rules and regulations. The FCC handles major issues at its monthly meetings; it deals with less important issues by circulating them among the commissioners for action. The language of the Act is flexible, sufficient to work as a framework for the FCC to promulgate new rules and regulations related to a huge variety of technologies and services.