|Federal Communications Commission|
|Formed||June 19, 1934|
|Preceding agency||Federal Radio Commission|
|Headquarters||Washington, D.C., United States|
|Annual budget||US$352.5 million (FY 2011)|
|Agency executive||Julius Genachowski, Chairman|
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the U.S. telecommunications regulator. It is an independent agency of the United States government, created, directed, and empowered by Congressional statute (see 47 U.S.C. § 151 and 47 U.S.C. § 154), and with the majority of its commissioners appointed by the current President. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the media, public safety and homeland security, and modernizing the FCC.
The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 as the successor to the Federal Radio Commission and is charged with regulating all non-federal government use of the radio spectrum (including radio and television broadcasting), and all interstate telecommunications (wire, satellite and cable) as well as all international communications that originate or terminate in the United States. It is an important factor in U.S. telecommunication policy. 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 U.S. possessions. Due however to close geographic proximity to 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 has a 2009 proposed budget of $466 million which is funded by $1 million in taxpayer appropriations and the rest in regulatory fees. It has 1,899 "full-time equivalent" federal employees.
On November 14, 2008, Barack Obama appointed Susan P. Crawford and Kevin Werbach to lead the review of the FCC. The review team will review the commission to aid the new administration in its planning decisions. The team "will ensure that senior appointees have the information necessary to complete the confirmation process, lead their departments, and begin implementing signature policy initiatives immediately after they are sworn in."
As specified in section one of the Communications Act as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (amendment to 47 U.S.C. §151) it is the FCC's mission 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, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges."[sic] 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 communications."
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:
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.
In 1940 the Federal Communications Commission issued the "Report on Chain Broadcasting." The major point in the report was the breakup of NBC (National Broadcasting Company), which ultimately led to the creation of ABC (American Broadcasting Company), but there were two other important points. One was network option time, the culprit here being CBS. The report limited the amount of time during the day, and 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 employees of artists, which was a conflict of interest the report rectified.
In assigning television stations to various cities after World War II, the FCC found that it placed many stations too close to each other, resulting in interference. At the same time, it became clear that the designated 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. 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.
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 East Peoria, Fresno, and Bakersfield 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 VHF channels were reserved for non-commercial use.
The Sixth Report and Order also provided for the "intermixture" of VHF and UHF channels in most markets; UHF transmitters in the 1950s were not yet powerful enough, nor receivers sensitive enough (if they included 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 UHF was the only TV service available, UHF survived. In other markets, which were too small to financially support a television station, too close to VHF outlets in nearby cities, or where UHF was forced to compete with more than one well-established VHF station, UHF had little chance for success.
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 getting Denver the first post-Freeze station his personal mission. He 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.
The important relationship of the FCC and the American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) Company has evolved over several years. For many years, the FCC and state officials agreed to regulate the telephone systems as a natural monopoly. The FCC controlled telephone rates 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 split of the Bells 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.
In 1996 Congress enacted the Telecommunications Act of 1996, in the wake of the break-up of AT&T resulting from the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust suit against AT&T. In part, the 1996 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. See. e.g. Robert Crandall 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.
The inauguration of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States in 1981 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 1987. The FCC also took steps to increase competition to broadcasters, fostering broadcast alternatives such as cable television. It's worth also noting that in terms of indecency fines, there was not action taken by the FCC from Pacifica V. USA until 1987, about ten years later.
In the early 2000s, the FCC began stepping up censorship and enforcement of indecency regulations again, most notably following the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" that occurred during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII. However, the FCC's regulatory domain with respect to indecency remains restricted to the public airwaves, notably VHF and UHF television and AM/FM radio.
On June 15, 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 sponsored by Senator Sam Brownback, 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 tenfold over the previous maximum of $32,500 per violation.
The FCC is organized into seven Bureaus and eleven Staff Offices.
The FCC's Offices provide support services to the Bureaus. Though the Bureaus and Offices have their individual functions, they regularly work together on FCC issues.
As a regulator of over-the-air broadcast station s, FCC has one major regulatory instrument, revoking broadcast licenses, but short of that has limited leverage except for fines. (see FCC MB Docket 04-232). Sanctions run a report-basis system. Additionally, broadcast licenses are to be renewed if the station meets the "public interest, convenience, or necessity". However, the Federal Communications Commission now rarely checks except for some obvious and outstanding reason; the 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.
The Federal Communications Commission also licenses amateur radio operators and repeater stations, and does use its power to fine amateur radio operators who flagrantly violate its rules. It also licenses commercial operators who operate and repair certain radiotelephone, television, radar, and Morse code radio stations. In recent years it has also licensed people who maintain or operate GMDSS stations. While the FCC maintains control of the written and Morse testing standards, it no longer administers the exams, having delegated that function to private organizations.
The FCC has been criticized for awarding a digital TV (DTV) channel to each holder of an analog TV station license without an auction, as well as trading auctionable spectrum to Nextel to resolve public safety RF interference problems. Conversely, it has also been criticized for forcing stations to buy and install all new equipment (transmitters, TV antennas, and even entirely new broadcast towers), and operate for years on both channels at once. This was at great expense to every TV station, and without government compensation for the regulatory taking, despite 20 billion dollars brought in by taking more than 25% of the TV broadcast band (and the part most valuable for mobile TV, the future of broadcasting) away and auctioning it. On June 12, 2009, all full-power analog terrestrial TV licenses in the U.S. were terminated, with terrestrial television subsequently available only from the digital channels and a few low-power LPTV stations, leaving stations and the viewing public with millions of dollars in useless analog equipment, and with a reduced audience that could not or would not get the necessary DTV converter boxes. See DTV transition in the United States.
In 2003, the FCC Media Bureau produced a draft report analyzing the impact of deregulation in the radio industry. The report stated that from March 1996 through March 2003, the number of commercial radio stations on the air rose 5.9 percent while the number of station owners fell 35 percent. The concentration of ownership followed a 1996 rewrite of telecommunications law that eliminated a 40-station national ownership cap.
The report was never made public, nor have any similar analyses followed, despite the fact that radio industry reports were released in 1998, 2001 and 2002. In September 2006, Senator Barbara Boxer, who had received a copy of the report, released it.
In 2004, the FCC ordered its staff to destroy all copies of a draft study by Keith Brown and Peter Alexander, two economists in the FCC's Media Bureau. The two had analyzed a database of 4,078 individual news stories broadcast in 1998, showed local ownership of television stations adds almost five and one-half minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of "on-location" news.
The conclusion of the study was at odds with FCC arguments made when it voted in 2003 to increase the number of television stations a company could own in a single market. (In June 2004, a federal appeals court rejected the agency's reasoning on most of the rules and ordered it to try again.)
In September 2006, Senator Barbara Boxer, who had received a copy of the report "indirectly from someone within the FCC who believed the information should be made public," wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, asked whether any other commissioners "past or present" knew of the report's existence and why it was never made public. She also asked whether it was "shelved because the outcome was not to the liking of some of the commissioners and/or any outside powerful interests?" Boxer's office said if she does not receive adequate answers to her questions, she will push for an investigation by the FCC inspector general.
In a letter in response to Senator Boxer, FCC Chairman Martin said "I want to assure you that I too am concerned about what happened to these two draft reports." The letter also said "I have asked the inspector general of the FCC to conduct an investigation into what happened to these draft documents and will cooperate fully with him." Martin added that he was not chairman at the time the reports were drafted, and that neither he nor his staff had seen them.
When it emerged in 2006 that AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon may have broken U.S. laws by aiding the 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."
With the major demographic shifts occurring in the country in terms of the racial-ethnic composition of the population, the FCC has also 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 affects 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. See El Diario La Prensa's editorial on media diversity. 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. President Obama appointed Mark Lloyd to the FCC in the newly created post of Associate General Counsel/Chief Diversity Officer.
On October 15, 2008, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced his support for the use of white spaces within the radio frequency spectrum. White spaces are airwaves that will go unused after the federally mandated transformation of analog TV signal goes digital. He said he is "hoping to take advantage of utilizing these airwaves for broadband services to allow for unlicensed technologies and new innovations in that space." While technology innovators such as Google and Microsoft 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.
The FCC has claimed some jurisdiction over the issue of network neutrality (see Network neutrality in the United States) and has laid down guideline rules that it expects the telecommunications industry to follow. On February 11, 2008 Rep. Ed Markey and Rep. Chip Pickering introduced HR5353 "To establish broadband policy and direct the Federal Communications Commission to conduct a proceeding and public broadband summit to assess competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice issues relating to broadband Internet access services, and for other purposes." On 1 August 2008 the FCC formally voted 3-to-2 to upholding 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 Internet providers, 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." The case highlighted broader issues of whether new legislation is needed to force Internet providers to maintain network 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.
The FCC has also 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.
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 , 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 the existing FM broadcast band and even 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. Enormous expense is involved in converting each station, largely from these fees, and so it is completely prohibitive for community radio and most other non-commercial educational stations.
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 in software, where it would need to tune S band instead of L band.
After being successful in opening the FM band as a superior alternative to the AM band by allowing colleges and other schools to start ten-watt LPFM stations, the FCC banned new ones around 1980, at the behest of the powerful commercial radio stations of the National Association of Broadcasters, and the then-new National Public Radio. The exception to the ban is for NAB/NPR member stations (and now religious radio) to construct broadcast translators, which raises issues about equal protection of free speech, because it bans technically-identical stations just for originating their own programming. Commercial station groups are now also using "translator" stations to circumvent caps on local media ownership, be feeding them a signal that is also broadcast on an AM station or "HD" channel that cannot otherwise be heard.
The FCC database of broadcasting towers provides information about the height and year built of broadcasting towers in the USA. It does not contain information about the structural types of towers or about the height of towers used for non-broadcasting purposes like NDBs, LORAN-C transmission towers or VLF transmission facilities of the US Navy, or about towers not used for transmission like the BREN Tower. These are instead tracked by the Federal Aviation Administration as obstructions to air navigation.
The FCC is directed by five commissioners appointed by the U.S. president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for five-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term. The president designates one of the commissioners to serve as chairperson. Only three commissioners may be members of the same political party. None of them may have a financial interest in any FCC-related business.
Only three commissioners can be from the same political party. All are appointed by the President to five-year terms, or to finish out vacated five-year terms.
The following is a complete list of past chairmen:
A complete list of commissioners is available on the FCC website. Notable commissioners include:
The FCC leases space in the Portals building in southwest Washington, DC. 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 website. The FCC had wanted to move into a more expensive area along Pennsylvania Avenue.