The Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission, an independent agency of the United States government, regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all fifty states of the United States of America, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. An independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress, the Federal Communications Commission is the federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing America’s communications law and regulations.

In its work facing economic opportunities and challenges associated with rapidly evolving advances in global communications, the agency capitalises on its competencies in: “promoting competition, innovation and investment in broadband services and facilities, supporting the nation’s economy by ensuring an appropriate competitive framework for the unfolding of the communications revolution, encouraging the highest and best use of spectrum domestically and internationally, revising media regulations so that new technologies flourish alongside diversity and localism, and providing leadership in strengthening the defense of the nation’s communications infrastructure”.

The Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission was formed by the Communications Act of 1934 to replace the radio regulation functions of the Federal Radio Commission. The Communications Act of 1934 is a United States federal law signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 19, 1934 and codified as Chapter 5 of Title 47 of the United States Code. The Act replaced the Federal Radio Commission with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It also transferred regulation of interstate telephone services from the Interstate Commerce Commission to the FCC.

On January 3, 1996, the 104th Congress of the United States of America amended or repealed sections of the Communications Act of 1934 with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It was the first major overhaul of American telecommunications policy in nearly sixty-two years.

The Federal Communications Commission’s mission, specified in Section One of the Communications Act of 1934 and amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, is 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, Nationwide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges”.

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”.

The agency is directed by five Commissioners who are appointed by the President of the United States of America and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The President also selects one of the commissioners to serve as Chairman. Only three Commissioners can be of the same political party at any given time and none can have a financial interest in any commission-related business. All commissioners, including the Chairman, have five-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term.

The commission is organised into bureaus and offices, based on function. Bureau and office staff members regularly share expertise to cooperatively fulfil responsibilities such as: developing and implementing regulatory programs, processing applications for licenses and other filings, encouraging the development of innovative services, conducting investigations and analysing complaints, public safety and homeland security, and consumer information and education.

In 1972, Congress passed the Federal Advisory Committee Act to ensure that advice by advisory committees is objective and accessible to the public. The Act put in place a process for establishing, operating, overseeing, and terminating these committees that provide valuable input from consumer groups, industry stakeholders, public safety officials and other interested parties.

Rules and Rulemakings

Rulemaking is a process for developing and issuing rules. The rulemaking process can lead to the issuance of a new rule, an amendment to an existing rule, or the repeal of an existing rule. There are three basic types of rules (which are also sometimes called “regulations”): 1. Legislative (sometimes called “Substantive”) Rules. These rules create legally binding rights and obligations for the agency and the public. For example, a legislative rule might say that broadcast towers must have lights to reduce the hazard to aviation.

2. Non-legislative Rules. These rules are of two subtypes: i. Interpretive Rules. As the name suggests, these rules interpret the meaning of statutes or legislative rules that the Commission administers. ii. Policy Statements. These tell the public how the agency plans to exercise some discretionary power that it has. For example, a policy statement might explain the typical fines for particular violations of the Commission’s rules.

3. Organizational and Procedural Rules. These rules describe the agency’s structure and the way in which its determinations are made. For example, such rules may delegate authority to make certain decisions to a particular Bureau within the Commission or set a deadline for filing comments with the Commission.

The Federal Communications Commission’s rules and regulations are in Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which are published and maintained by the Government Printing Office. Most FCC rules are adopted by a process known as “notice and comment” rulemaking. Under that process, the FCC gives the public notice that it is considering adopting or modifying rules on a particular subject and seeks the public’s comment. The Commission considers the comments received in developing final rules.

The FCC, serving the public in the areas of broadband access, fair competition, radio frequency use, media responsibility, public safety, and homeland security, issues a legislative rule under authority given to it by Congress in statutes. The statutory delegation of authority can range from broad discretionary authority to a very specific mandate. For example, Congress broadly requires the FCC to grant broadcast licenses in the public interest. In contrast, Congress specifically required that the FCC complete the switch from analog to digital television broadcasting by a certain date.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the codification of the general and permanent rules and regulations (sometimes called Administrative Law) published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government of the United States of America. The CFR is divided into fifty titles that represent broad areas subject to federal regulation.

The CFR annual edition is the codification of the general and permanent rules published by the Office of the Federal Register (part of the National Archives and Records Administration) and the Government Publishing Office. In addition to this annual edition, the CFR is published in an unofficial format online on the Electronic CFR website, which is updated daily.