The FCC Q&A

In 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an act that created the Federal Communications Commission. Best-known for levying fines against television and radio stations, this agency handles a variety of regulatory responsibilities in the telecommunications industry. These are some of the most common questions about the history and responsibilities of the Federal Communications Commission.

Q: What is the Federal Communications Commission?

A: The Federal Communications Commission, commonly called the FCC, is an independent government agency that oversees interstate and international communications. This agency regulates communications broadcast via cable, radio, wire, television, and satellite in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and all U.S. territories. Five commissioners oversee the operations of this agency, with one commissioner appointed as the chairperson.

Q: What is the Communications Act of 1934?

A: The Communications Act of 1934 is a federal law that replaced the outdated Federal Radio Commission with the Federal Communications Commission, an agency with broader powers. This act also gave the FCC the power to regulate interstate telephone services, a task previously performed by the Interstate Commerce Commission. The purpose of this act was to give Americans access to rapid, efficient communication facilities at reasonable prices.

Q: Why was the FCC formed?

A: The FCC was formed to carry out the provisions of the Communications Act of 1934. In addition to the goal of providing American citizens with access to affordable interstate communication options, the Communications Act of 1934 was also designed to make interstate communications available to those charged with defending the country from domestic and foreign threats. The creation of the Federal Communications Commission centralized this type of regulation.

Q: What are the different bureaus and offices within the FCC?

A: The FCC has a total of 18 bureaus and offices. The International Bureau handles issues related to satellites and foreign communications. The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau coordinates FCC regulation efforts with governmental agencies and informs consumers about available telecommunications services. The Media Bureau is responsible for regulating cable television services, satellite services, television stations, AM radio stations, and FM radio stations.

The Enforcement Bureau of the FCC enforces the provisions of the Communications Act. It also enforces the rules and orders developed by the commissioners. The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau regulates two-way radios, cell phones, pagers, and PCS phones. The Wireline Competition Bureau is responsible for regulating telephone companies that provide interstate telecommunications services via corded or cordless telephones. The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau oversees interstate communication as it relates to national security, disaster management, public safety, and emergency management.

The Office of Communications Business Opportunities advises the Commission on policies and issues related to small communications businesses and communications businesses owned by women and minorities. The Office of Administrative Law Judges issues initial decisions and oversees hearings related to communications issues. The Office of the General Counsel is responsible for representing all of the Commission’s bureaus and offices in legal matters. The Office of Engineering and Technology advises the Commission on technical matters and sets aside some of the communications spectrum for non-government use.

The Office of Inspector General conducts investigations and audits of Commission activity. The Office of Legislative Affairs acts as a liaison between the FCC and Congress, which helps shape future regulations and legislation. The Office of Media Relations communicates with media representatives about FCC decisions. The Office of the Managing Director is supervised by the Commission chairman. This office is responsible for all operating functions of the FCC. The Office of Workplace Diversity advises the FCC on issues related to equal employment opportunity and workforce diversity. The Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis works with all of the commissioners, bureaus, and offices to determine the goals and objectives of the FCC.

Q: What areas does the FCC govern?

A: The FCC oversees six major areas of communications: homeland security, media, public safety, broadband, competition, and the radio frequency spectrum. The agency uses its powers to regulate things like broadcast licensing, competition among telecommunications companies, and wire communication. The FCC can levy fines against organizations that do not comply with agency rules and regulations.

Q: Who does the FCC report to?

A: The president appoints FCC commissioners to five-year terms, but these terms must be approved by the Senate. The commissioners report to a chairperson, who is also appointed by the president. The entire agency works with and reports to the members of Congress, which helps shape new legislation and regulation in the telecommunications field.

Q: What is the Telecommunications Act of 1996?

A: The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was an update to the Communications Act of 1934. One of the major changes was the inclusion of the Internet in the non-government allotment for broadcasting and the radio spectrum. One of the major goals for this updated law was to deregulate the broadcasting market. 

Q: How does the FCC affect monopolies?

A: A monopoly is when one company has exclusive control over a commodity service. The FCC aims to prevent monopolies so that consumers have several options for television, radio, and other telecommunications services. However, some argue that continued deregulation of the telecommunications industry will lead to monopolies that reduce the number of options available.

Q: How does the FCC affect television broadcasting and the Internet?

A: The FCC affects television broadcasting by requiring licensing of all television stations. The Commission also regulates some types of television content. For example, a television station may not knowingly broadcast false information or distorted news. The FCC does not regulate Internet service providers or Internet traffic.

Q: How does one file a complaint with the FCC?

A: Consumers can file a complaint with the FCC by visiting esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm. This form accepts complaints regarding junk faxes, wired telephones, telemarketing, disability access to communications, broadband service, VoIP service, tower light outages, television issues, and wireless telephones. Consumers may also file complaints by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC or 1-888-TELL-FCC (TTY). Written complaints should be mailed to the FCC at the following address:

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Complaints
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

Mailed complaints should include copies of supporting documents.