FCC (United States Federal Communications Commission)
█ STEPHANIE WATSON
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent government agency, oversees the media and communications industries in the United States. Included under the FCC's jurisdiction are radio, television, cable, telephone, satellite, and wireless (cellular phones and pagers) providers. As part of their regulatory responsibilities, FCC commissioners review and grant broadcasting licenses, approve corporate mergers and acquisitions, and protect consumers by responding to complaints and investigating claims of unfair rates and fraudulent business practices.
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the FCC tightened its focus on security, and began looking at new ways to protect the nation's communications infrastructure. In March of the following year, it announced the creation of a new Media Security and Reliability Council. The federal advisory committee, comprised of media company executives, public service representatives, trade association members, and manufacturers, meets regularly to evaluate the security of national communications networks, and to strategize measures to protect against future attacks.
The FCC is governed by five commissioners, who are appointed by the president with the Senate's approval. Rules governing the FCC stipulate that no more than three commissioners can be from the same political party. Each commissioner serves for a five-year period. The agency is funded by and reports to the United States Congress. The FCC chairman directs the organization's activities and is responsible for hiring its bureau chiefs and department heads.
The FCC is divided into six bureaus, each of which has been designated to provide a specific function. The Media Bureau regulates and licenses broadcast television and radio stations, cable and satellite providers; the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau oversees cellular phones, pagers, and two-way radios; the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau educates the public and coordinates with other government agencies to protect consumer interests; the Enforcement Bureau carries out the rules set forth under the Communications Act; the International Bureau directs communications activities outside the United States; and the Wireline Competition Bureau regulates telephone companies that provide interstate and intrastate wire-based service. Ten staff offices have been set up to support these bureaus.
The birth of the FCC. The FCC was set up under the 1934 Communications Act to regulate radio and telephone communications. It combined functions originally designated to the Federal Radio Commission, Interstate Commerce Commission, and Postmaster General. As the television, cable and wireless industries emerged in subsequent years, the FCC's reach was extended and its responsibilities increased. New regulations were enacted to govern each new industry, for example the Communications Satellite Act of 1962 and the Cable Act of 1992.
Each industry under the FCC's jurisdiction was originally designated a separate entity, and prohibited by the government from crossing over into each other's territory. That is, until Congress signed the landmark 1996 Telecommunications Act. The act relaxed the rules governing corporate ownership within the telephone, television, and computer industries; allowing, for example, local phone companies to offer long-distance service and cable companies to offer Internet access. The move allowed greater competition among companies, and more choice and protection against monopolistic pricing practices for consumers. It also set the stage for a host of media mergers and acquisitions, most notably: America Online/Time Warner/Turner Broadcasting system, and ABC/Walt Disney Co., and MCI/Worldcom.
Over the years, the FCC has directed a number of important initiatives. In the early 1960s, when then-chairman Newton Minnow called television "a vast wasteland," television stations were spurred to raise programming standards. In 1990, the Children's Television Act limited advertising in programs geared to children and made children's programming a stipulation for license renewal. The FCC has also had to deal with First Amendment issues, for example obscenity cases relating to the music industry and radio broadcasts by so-called "shock jocks."
█ FURTHER READING:
Fleissner, Jennifer The Federal Communications Commission. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1992.
Hilliard, Robert L. The Federal Communications Commission: A Primer. Boston: Focal Press 1991.
Paglin, Max D., ed. A Legislative History of the Communications Act of 1934. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Hickey, Neil. "So Big: The Telecommunications Act at Year One." Columbia Journalism Review Jan/Feb. 1997: 23–28.
The Federal Communications Commission < http://www.fcc.gov/ > (January 30, 2003).
Communications System, United States National
Electronic Communication Intercepts, Legal Issues
National Telecommunications Information Administration, and Security for the Radio Frequency Spectrum, United States
Telephone Recording Laws