Regulation of Television Broadcast Licenses

The Communications Act of 1934 confers upon the FCC the sole authority to examine applications for television broadcast licenses and to grant, refuse, or revoke them as the public interest, convenience, or necessity requires. Each license granted for the operation of a television station lasts for a term of not to exceed eight years and may be renewed for a term of not to exceed eight years, measured from the expiration date of the preceding license.

Pursuant to provisions in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, television in the United States must convert from analog signal broadcast to digital signal. During the transition period, the FCC has temporarily assigned each television station a second station to broadcast the digital signal, while continuing to broadcast the analog on the original channel. Total conversion is expected to be completed in 2006, unless the FCC approves an extension. The FCC is not accepting any applications for new stations until television broadcasting has completed the conversion to digital.

The FCC has broad discretion to establish the qualifications for applicants seeking a television broadcast license and for licensees seeking renewal. The FCC has exercised this discretion to prescribe an assortment of qualifications relating to citizenship, financial solvency, technical prowess, and moral character, and other criteria the commission has deemed relevant to determine the fitness of particular applicants to run a television station. The FCC will also compare the programming content proposed by an applicant to the content of existing programming. The FCC favors applicants who will make television entertainment more diverse and competitive.

To limit the concentration of power in television broadcast rights, the FCC has promulgated rules restricting the number of television stations that a licensee may operate. An applicant who has reached the limit may seek an amendment, waiver, or exception to the rule, and no licensee may be denied an additional license until he or she has been afforded a full hearing on the competing public interests at stake. Applicants or licensees who are dissatisfied with a decision issued by the FCC may seek review from the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which has exclusive jurisdiction over appeals concerning FCC decisions granting, denying, modifying, or revoking television broadcast licenses. Decisions rendered by the appellate court may be appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.

The FCC is authorized to assess and collect a schedule of license fees, application fees, equipment approval fees, and miscellaneous regulatory assessments and penalties to cover the costs of its enforcement proceedings, policy and rulemaking activities, and user information services. The commission may establish these charges and review and adjust them every two years to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index. Failure to timely pay a fee, assessment, or penalty is grounds for dismissing an application or revoking an existing license.


Inside Regulation of Television Broadcast Licenses