Federal Communications Commission

From Academic Kids

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FCC logo.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent United States government agency, created, directed, and empowered by Congressional statute.

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. The FCC took over wire communication regulation from the Interstate Commerce Commission. The FCC's jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions.



The FCC is directed by five Commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for 5-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 can have a financial interest in any Commission-related business.

As the chief executive officer of the Commission, the Chairman delegates management and administrative responsibility to the Managing Director. The Commissioners supervise all FCC activities, delegating responsibilities to staff units and Bureaus. The current FCC Chairman is Kevin Martin.The other current Commissioners are Kathleen Abernathy, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, with one seat vacant.


Report on Chain Broadcasting

In 1940 the Federal Communications Commission issued the "Report on Chain Broadcasting." The major point in the report was the breakup of NBC (See 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...

Allocation of television stations

The Federal Communications Commission assigned television the very high frequency (VHF) band and gave TV channels 1 to 13. The 13 channels could only accommodate 400 stations nationwide and could not accommodate color in its state of technology in the early 1940s. So in 1944 CBS proposed to convert all of television to the ultra high frequency (UHF) band, which would have solved the frequency and color problem. There was only one flaw in the CBS proposal: everyone else disagreed. In 1945 and 1946 the Federal Communications Commission held hearings on the CBS plan. RCA said CBS wouldn't have its color system ready for 5–10 years. CBS claimed it would be ready by the middle of 1947. CBS also gave a demonstration with a very high quality picture. In October of 1946 RCA presented a color system of inferior quality which was partially compatible with the present VHF black and white system. In March 1947 the Federal Communications Commission said CBS would not be ready, and ordered a continuation of the present system. RCA promised its electric color system would be fully compatible within five years; in 1947 an adapter was required to see color programs in black and white on a black and white set.

In 1945 the Federal Communications Commission moved FM radio to a higher frequency. The Federal Communications Commission also allowed simulcasting of AM programs on FM stations. Regardless of these two disadvantages, CBS placed its bets on FM and gave up some TV applications. CBS had thought TV would be moved according to its plan and thus delayed. Unfortunately for CBS, FM was not a big moneymaker and TV was. That year the Federal Communications Commission set 150 miles as the minimum distance between TV stations on the same channel.

There was interference between TV stations in 1948 so the Federal Communications Commission froze the processing of new applications for TV stations. On September 30, 1948, the day of the freeze, there were thirty-seven stations in twenty-two cities and eighty-six more were approved. Another three hundred and three applications were sent in and not approved. After all the approved stations were constructed, or weren't, the distribution was as follows: New York and Los Angeles, seven each; twenty-four other cities had two or more stations; most cities had only one including Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. A total of just sixty-four cities had television during the freeze, and only one-hundred-eight stations were around. The freeze was for six months only, initially, and was just for studying interference problems. Because of the Korean War, the freeze wound up being three and a half years. During the freeze, the interference problem was solved and the Federal Communications Commission made a decision on color TV and UHF. In October of 1950 the Federal Communications Commission made a pro-CBS color decision for the first time. The previous RCA decisions were made while Charles Denny was chairman. He later resigned in 1947 to become an RCA vice president and general counsel. The decision approved CBS' mechanical spinning wheel color TV system, now able to be used on VHF, but still not compatible with black-and-white sets.

RCA, with a new compatible system that was of comparable quality to CBS' according to TV critics, appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost in May 1951, but its legal action did succeed in toppling CBS' color TV system, as during the legal battle, many more black-and-white television sets were sold. When CBS did finally start broadcasting using its color TV system in mid-1951, most American television viewers already had black-and-white receivers that were incompatible with CBS' color system. In October of 1951 CBS was ordered to stop work on color TV by the National Production Authority, supposedly to help the situation in Korea. The Authority was headed by a lieutenant of William Paley, the head of CBS.

The Federal Communications Commission, under chairman Wayne Coy, issued its Sixth Report and Order in early 1952. It established seventy UHF channels (14 to 83) providing 1400 new potential stations. It also set aside 242 stations for education, most of them in the UHF band. The Commission also added 220 more VHF stations. VHF was reduced to 12 channels with channel 1 being given over to other uses and channels 2–13 being used solely for TV, this to reduce interference. This ended the freeze. In March of 1953 the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce held hearings on color TV. RCA and the National Television Systems Committee, NTSC, presented the RCA system. The NTSC consisted of all of the major television manufacturers at the time. On March 25, CBS president Frank Stanton conceded it would be "economically foolish" to pursue its color system and in effect CBS lost.

On December 17, 1953, the Federal Communications Commission reversed its decision on color and approved the RCA system. Ironically, color didn't sell well. In the first six months of 1954 only 8,000 sets were sold; compared with 23,000,000 black and white sets. Westinghouse made a big, national push and sold thirty sets nationwide. The sets were big, expensive and didn't include UHF.

The problem was that UHF stations would not be successful unless people had UHF tuners, and people would not voluntarily pay for UHF tuners unless there were UHF broadcasters. Of the 165 UHF stations that went on the air between 1952 and 1959, 55% went off the air. Of the UHF stations on the air, 75% were losing money. UHF's problems were the following: (1) technical inequality of UHF stations as compared with VHF stations; (2) intermixture of UHF and VHF stations in the same market and the millions of VHF only receivers; (3) the lack of confidence in the capabilities of and the need for UHF television. Suggestions of de-intermixture (making some cities VHF only and other cities UHF only) were not adopted, because most existing sets did not have UHF capability. Ultimately the FCC required all TV sets to have UHF tuners under the All Channels Act. However over four decades later, UHF is still considered inferior to VHF, despite cable television, and ratings on VHF channels are generally higher than on UHF channels.

The allocation between VHF and UHF in the 1950s, and the lack of UHF tuners is entirely analogous to the dilemma facing digital television fifty years later in the 2000s. The All Channels Act is again being used to force this transition, however at significantly greater cost to the consumer this time around.

Radio allocation and restriction

In 1962, the FCC imposed new restrictions on the emerging FM band. The country was divided into three zones: Zone I covers much of the Northeastern and Midwestern U.S. and limits effective radiated power to 50,000 watts and transmitter height to 150 meters. Zone I-A covering most of California and Puerto Rico has the same restrictions. Such stations are limited to class B status. Zone II covers the rest of the U.S., where ERP is limited to 100,000 watts and an antenna height of 600 meters, and can reach class C status. A number of stations had been built to exceed these levels prior to 1962, so they were grandfathered in. Today, the most strongly overpowered station in Zone I/I-A is considered to be KRUZ in Santa Barbara, California (it has a relatively low power output, but a tall antenna). The most powerful Zone II station is WMC-FM in Memphis, Tennessee.

Consolidation permissivity, obscenity crackdowns

The inauguration of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States in 1981 marked the beginning of a shift in the FCC towards a decidedly more permissive stance. Monopoly regulations were relaxed so far as to be practically irrelevant, and remaining restrictions were laxly enforced. A substantial portion of other regulations were repealed, such as guidelines for minimal amounts of non-entertainment programming in 1985. In addition, the Fairness Doctrine was removed in 1987. This deregulation has led to the rapid rise in the channel selection offered by broadcast alternatives such as cable television. It has also led to greater concentration of media ownership.

In the early 2000s, the FCC began stepping up enforcement on what they see as "obscenity", most notably in the Janet Jackson 'wardrobe malfunction'. However, the FCC's regulatory domain with respect to obscenity remains restricted to the public airwaves, notably VHF and UHF television and AM/FM radio.

Regulatory powers

The Federal Communications Commission has one major regulatory weapon, revoking licenses, but short of that has little leverage over broadcast stations (see FCC MB Docket 04-232). It is reluctant to do this since it operates in a near vacuum of information on most of the tens of thousands of stations whose licenses are renewed every eight years (previously, every three years). Broadcast licenses are supposed to be renewed if the station meets the "public interest, convenience, or necessity." The Federal Communications Commission rarely checks except for some outstanding reason; burden of proof would be on the complainant. Fewer than 1% of station renewals are not immediately granted, and only a small fraction of those are actually denied.

The Federal Communications Commission also licenses amateur radio operators and stations, and does use its power to fine hams 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.

Note: Similar authority for regulation of U.S. Government telecommunications is vested in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Source: from Federal Standard 1037C

See also: frequency assignment, open spectrum, British equivalent Ofcom, Mercedes Divide, FCC MB Docket 04-232


The FCC has been criticized on many fronts, both for being too restrictive and too permissive in its regulation.

On the issue of broadcast indecency, it has taken heat from ultra-religious right-wing groups for not cracking down hard enough on what they believe others should not see or hear. In the actions it has taken against broadcasters, it has also been criticized for violating the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech, both directly by the enforcement action and indirectly by the general intimidation it creates, particularly with the U.S. Congress considering multiplying the fines exponentially. The FCC is also considering forcing all broadcasters to retain everything they broadcast for two or three months (FCC MB Docket 04-232).

Unlicensed broadcasting has also been a source of contention, as the FCC has set the power limits on it extremely low, while making it nearly impossible for anyone except a corporation or large nonprofit to obtain a license. Stephen Dunnifer did win a case versus the FCC, but otherwise few have successfully argued against the commission.

In digital television, the broadcast flag angered many advocates, and was struck down in federal court. It is still possible that the copy prevention could be authorized by Congress, however. Congress has criticized the commission for not pushing or even forcing DTV by cutting off all analog TV stations, though the public has shown very little interest in DTV, and coversion set-top boxes are still hundreds of dollars each.

In digital radio, the FCC chose a proprietary system, so that every broadcaster will have to pay iBiquity royalties every year, in addition to payments from manufacturers of transmitters and even consumer receivers. Even the IBOC design of the system is not being used by any other country, so it is completely incompatible even with Canada.

In telephony, the FCC prohibited NANP area codes from being assigned only to cellphones, despite the fact that they were the primary cause of the need for new telephone numbers. This is also the opposite of what nearly every other country does, and prevents tariffs for calls to mobile phones (which charge per minute) from being different than landlines (which do not). The exception was area code 917, which is for moblie phones issued in the city of New York, and was grandfathered-in.

The character "Broadband" (FCC Kids Zone (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/kidszone/)) looks like Doraemon, a popular Manga character in Japan. Doraemon was created for print in magazines in 1969, which makes Doraemon predate the FCC's character. According to Japanese news media, both Shogakukan (copyright manager) and Fujiko-production (owner of the copyright) have warned the FCC over the alleged copyright infringement, but so far there has been no answer.

External links

de:Federal Communications Commission nl:Federal Communications Commission pt:Federal Communications Commission


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