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Federal Regulation of Licenses, Content, and Advertising

The U.S. Congress passed the Communications Act of 1934, which expanded the definition of “radio communication” to include “signs, signals, pictures, and sounds of all kinds, including all instrumentalities, facilities, apparatus, and services … incidental to such transmission.”  With the advent of television in the late 1930s and its growth in popularity during the 1940s and 1950s, “radio communication” was eventually interpreted to encompass television broadcasts as well.

The rapid growth of telecommunications also prompted Congress to create the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an executive branch agency charged with overseeing the telecommunications industry in the United States. The FCC has exclusive jurisdiction to grant, deny, review, and terminate television broadcast licenses.  The FCC is also responsible for establishing guidelines, promulgating regulations, and resolving disputes involving various broadcast media.  The FCC does not, however, typically oversee the selection of programming that is broadcast.  There are exceptions for this general rule, including limits on indecent programming, the number of commercials aired during children’s programming, and rules involving candidates for public office.  Within the FCC, the Media Bureau develops, recommends and administers the policy and licensing programs relating to electronic media, including cable and broadcast television in the United States and its territories.

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