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Overview:

An independent agency of the federal government, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees the television, radio and telephone industries in the United States. The FCC’s key responsibilities range from issuing operating licenses for radio and TV stations to maintaining decency standards designed to protect the public good. The commission is led by a five-member partisan board consisting of Republican and Democratic nominees selected by the President.

 
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History:

When Congress passed the Communications Act of 1934 (pdf), it abolished the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) and transferred jurisdiction over radio licensing to a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which took over the operations and precedents of the FRC. Concerned over the growing power of large corporations and conglomerates, the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt wanted the FCC to make sure the country’s budding mass communications systems did not fall into the hands of a select few.

 

In 1940 the FCC injected itself into the business affairs of the radio industry by issuing the “Report on Chain Broadcasting” and ordering the breakup of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), which ultimately led to the creation of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). The FCC also established precedents for how much air time networks could demand of affiliate stations and the time of day that network broadcasting could air. Previously a network could demand any time it wanted from an affiliate. The commission also did away with networks’ ability to serve as both agents and employees of artists who performed for radio programs on grounds that the situation posed a conflict of interest.

 

With the advent of television in the 1940s, the FCC became an important player in the development of this new medium. The commission issued licenses for new television stations to begin broadcasting—a responsibility that didn’t always go smoothly. After the end of World War II, the FCC assigned television stations to various cities and inadvertently placed many stations too close to each other, resulting in signal interference.

 

The FCC also helped shape the manner in which television stations delivered their signals, either through very high frequency (VHF) or ultra high frequency (UHF). Many earlier TV stations utilized VHF channels 2 through 13, but the commission soon realized that VHF alone was inadequate for nationwide television service. As a result, the FCC encouraged the licensing of stations that used UHF signals. In some cases, commissioners forced channels to switch from one frequency to another or ordered certain VHF channels off the air in smaller markets, like Peoria, Fresno, and Bakersfield, to create markets that were UHF “islands.” The development of color television was another important milestone that the FCC had to address, as was the newly emerging field of educational television, for which the commission established rules protecting its foothold in television markets against commercially driven programming.

 

The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1981 accelerated an already on-going 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. Critics said the Fairness Doctrine did not extend to expanding communications technologies, and that the doctrine was limiting public debate. 

 

Originally introduced in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine (also known as the Report on Editorializing by Broadcast Licensees) was applied on a case-by-case basis until 1967 when certain parts of the doctrine became part of the FCC’s regulations. The Fairness Doctrine required broadcast licensees to present issues of public importance, no matter how controversial, in a fair, balanced, and equitable manner. It was meant to diminish personal attacks and ensured equal time to respond to assertions made on air. 

 

FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler began to repeal parts of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, attempting to restore First Amendment rights he felt had been stripped away. This increased competition among broadcasters and paved the way for alternatives, such as cable television. 

 

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 followed the Justice Department’s antitrust suit against AT&T, which forced the company to break into smaller “Baby Bells.” The legislation tried to create more competition among local phone service providers by requiring Local Exchange Carriers to provide access to their facilities. It outlined regulations on obscene programming and removed many of the regulations limiting media ownership. This allowed greater consolidation among carriers and led to the development of the Internet, cable and wireless services. 

 

During the administration of President George W. Bush, the FCC shifted its focus to matters of obscenity and indecency, especially following Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during a Super Bowl halftime show in January 2004. President Bush signed the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005, which stiffened penalties for each violation of FCC rules, up to $325,000.

 

Although the FCC does not regulate the Internet, or Internet Service Providers, it has been instrumental in advancing VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology, which allows callers to make and receive calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of an analog phone line. In 2005, the FCC imposed 911 obligations on VoIP service providers, including the requirement that users had to be able to make and receive calls from the regular telephone network. This arose after some VoIP users had trouble reaching the 911 emergency network. VoIP service providers are also required to comply with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (CALEA) and to support the Universal Service Fund, which supports assistance for income-eligible telephone subscribers.

 

In December 2007, the FCC approved rules that set new parameters on the size of the largest news and cable companies. One rule stipulated that no one cable company can control more than 30% of the market. The second rule moved toward industry deregulation by relaxing newspaper/broadcast cross ownership regulations. With newspapers suffering from diminished ad revenue due to Internet competition, the new rule provided more leeway for newspapers to purchase TV and radio stations in the nation’s top 20 markets. In 2008, the Senate voted to rescind the rule.

 

In 2009, with support of the Obama administration, the FCC proposed “net neutrality” rules designed to enforce mandates on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and wireless carriers to prevent discrimination against applications and content, ensuring equal treatment of all Internet traffic. The rules were fine-tuned in December 2010. In April 2011, House Republicans passed a bill to repeal the rules, and federal courts are hearing several legal challenges.

 

In July 2010, a federal appeals court struck down the FCC’s “indecency policy” that levied fines against TV networks whose programs including “fleeting expletives.” The ruling stated that the FCC rule was “unconstitutionally vague” and had “a chilling effect” on broadcast content.

 

In May 2011, the FCC launched a study into the controversy over the alleged “location tracking” capability of so-called smart phones, whereby popularly used cell phones—such as Apple’s iPhone—have been discovered to be storing location data for up to a year, even when location software was not in use.

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What it Does:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent government agency responsible for regulating the radio, television and phone industries. The FCC regulates all interstate communications, such as wire, satellite and cable, and international communications originating or terminating in the United States. 

 

Leading the FCC are five commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms. The President designates one of the commissioners to serve as chairperson. Only three commissioners may be members of the same political party, and none of them can have a financial interest in any commission-related business.

 

The FCC is organized into seven bureaus and ten staff offices. In general, the bureaus handle license applications and related filings, as well as analyzing complaints, developing and enacting regulations, conducting investigations and participating in hearings. The seven bureaus are:

 

Consumer & Governmental Affairs (CGB) oversees the FCC’s consumer policies, including disability access. It handles outreach and education through its Consumer Center, which responds to consumer questions and complaints. CGB also collaborates with state, local and tribal governments to ensure emergency preparedness.

 

Enforcement Bureau is responsible for enforcing the provisions of the Communications Act of 1934, as well as FCC rules, orders, terms and conditions of station authorizations. This bureau helps to foster local competition and consumer protection, public safety and homeland security.

 

International Bureau (IB) helps to develop international telecommunications policy on issues such as allocation of frequencies and minimizing electromagnetic interference. IB is responsible for maintaining FCC compliance with the International Radio Regulations and other international agreements. 

 

Media Bureau develops and implements policy and licensing programs relating to electronic media, such as cable television, broadcast television and radio. Post-licensing for direct broadcast satellite services also falls within its purview.

 

Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is responsible for all FCC wireless telecommunications programs, policies and outreach programs. These services include amateur radio, cellular networks, pagers, personal Communications Service, Part 27 Wireless Communications Services and fixed, mobile and broadcast services in the 700 MHz band. 

 

Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) assists in policy development for wireline telecommunications (broadband) to promote growth and investments in infrastructure, development, markets and services.

 

Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau develops and implements communications for use during emergencies and crises. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, this bureau was added to make sure public safety, health, defense and emergency personnel, and consumers can communicate during times of greatest need.

 

FCC Offices

Ten staff offices provide support for the bureaus. They are:

  • Office of Administrative Law Judges conducts hearings ordered by the commission. The hearing function includes acting on interlocutory requests filed in the proceedings, such as petitions to intervene, petitions to enlarge issues and contested discovery requests. An administrative law judge, appointed under the Administrative Procedure Act, presides at the hearing during which documents and sworn testimony are received in evidence and witnesses are cross-examined. At the conclusion of the evidentiary phase of a proceeding, the presiding judge writes and issues an Initial Decision, which may be appealed to the commission.
  • Office of Communications Business Opportunities (OCBO) promotes telecommunications business opportunities for small, minority-owned and women-owned businesses. OCBO works with entrepreneurs, industry, public interest organizations, individuals and others to provide information about FCC policies, increase ownership and employment opportunities, foster a diversity of voices and viewpoints over the airwaves, and encourage participation in FCC proceedings.
  • Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) advises the FCC concerning engineering matters. Its chief role is to manage the electromagnetic spectrum, specifically frequency allocation and spectrum usage. OET conducts technical studies of advanced phases of terrestrial and space communications and administers FCC rules regarding radio devices, experimental radio services and industrial, scientific and medical equipment. OET also organizes the Technical Advisory Council, a committee of FCC advisors from major telecommunication and media corporations. In addition, the office operates the Equipment Authorization Branch, which is tasked with overseeing equipment authorization for all devices using the electromagnetic energy from 9 kHz to 300 GHz. OET maintains an electronic database of all certified equipment that can be easily accessed by the public.
  • Office of General Counsel serves as the FCC’s chief legal adviser. The general counsel also represents the commission in litigation in federal courts, recommends decisions in adjudicatory matters before the commission, assists the commission in its decision making capacity and performs a variety of legal functions regarding internal and other administrative matters.
  • Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recommends policies to prevent fraud in agency operations. The inspector general recommends corrective action where appropriate, referring criminal matters to the Department of Justice for potential prosecution.
  • Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA) is the FCC’s liaison to Congress, providing lawmakers with information about FCC regulations. OLA also prepares FCC witnesses for congressional hearings and helps create FCC responses to legislative proposals and congressional inquiries. In addition, OLA is a liaison to other federal agencies as well as state and local governments.
  • Office of the Managing Director is responsible for the administration and management of the FCC, including the agency’s budget, personnel, security, contracts and publications.
  • Office of Media Relations disseminates FCC announcements, orders, proceedings and other information per media requests. The office manages the FCC Daily Digest, web site and Audio Visual Center.
  • Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis (OSP) is the FCC’s think tank that identifies policy objectives for the agency. It works closely with the FCC chairman and is responsible for monitoring the state of the communications industry to identify trends, issues and overall industry health. The office acts as expert consultants to the commission in areas of economic, business and market analysis. It also reviews legal trends and developments not necessarily related to current FCC proceedings, such as intellectual property law, the Internet, and electronic commerce.
  • Office of Workplace Diversity develops policy to provide a full and fair opportunity for all employees, regardless of non-merit factors such as race, religion, gender, color, age, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

 

From the Web Site of the Federal Communications Commission

Advisory Committees

Articles

Blog

Bureaus and Offices

Business and Licensing

Calendar

Contact Information

Contracting

Court Opinions

Data

Events

Events - Live

Filing Comments

Filing Complaints

Guides

Jobs and Internships

Leadership

Meetings – Open to Public

Mergers and Acquisitions

News Archive

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Online Filing

Reports

Rulemaking

Strategic Plans and Budgets

Tools and Data

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Where Does the Money Go:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) spent $647.5 million on 6,813 contractor transactions during the past decade. According to USASpending.gov, the FCC paid for a variety of services in support of its mandate, from automated information system design ($95.6 million) to systems engineering ($80.8 million) and ADP systems development ($53.3 million).

 

The top four contractors are as follows:

1. Computech                                                                                               $124,068,097

2. AAC Inc.                                                                                                    $57,562,213

3. Computer Sciences Corp.                                                                           $48,807,969

4. TeleTech Holdings Inc.                                                                               $28,387,503 

 

FCC FY 2013 Budget Estimates Submitted to Congress (pdf)

                                                             

Computech, the FCC’s largest contractor over the last decade, is responsible for helping the FCC develop and implement Automated Auction Systems (AAS), which helped to choose licensees for electromagnetic spectrum awards. The FCC had previously relied on hearings and lotteries to select single licensees. But with AAS, the FCC used simultaneous competitive bidding and generated revenue for the U.S. Treasury. Users dialed in to a call center and used FCC software to place bids. As Internet use became more prevalent, this system was redone as a web application called the Integrated Spectrum Auction System (ISAS) and has resulted in more than 55,000 spectrum licenses, valued in excess of $50 billion.

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Controversies:

FCC Study Suppressed

A former Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  lawyer accused the commission of destroying a draft study that conflicted with the FCC’s earlier attempt to liberalize media ownership. The 2004 study reportedly showed that greater concentration of media ownership would hurt local TV news coverage.

 

The analysis showed local ownership of television stations added almost five and one-half minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of “on-location” news. The conclusion 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.

 

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) was dismayed when she heard the news of the report and sent a letter to the FCC demanding to know what happened. Then-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who was on the commission at the time that the report was written, said he knew nothing about it, nor did his staff.

Lawyer Says FCC Ordered Study Destroyed (by John Dunbar, Associated Press)

Spiked media-ownership study raises new concerns (Associated Press)

FCC probe finds no suppression of media-ownership report (Associated Press)

 

FCC Won’t Investigate Phone Companies Involved in NSA Wiretapping

Following the 2006 revelation that some of the largest phone companies in the United States had helped the Bush administration collect phone records illegally, the FCC was asked to look into the matter. The FCC’s response: No can do.

 

Citing the secretive nature of the National Security Agency, then-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said, “The classified nature of the NSA’s activities make us unable to investigate the alleged violations” of privacy. Congressional Democrats were outraged by the commission’s unwillingness to get involved.

 

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), then the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, said: “We can’t have a situation where the FCC, charged with enforcing the law, won’t even begin an investigation of apparent violations of the law because it predicts the Administration will roadblock any investigations citing national security. If the FCC initiates an investigation and gets blocked by the White House, then the White House is stonewalling. But if the FCC refuses to even demand answers, then the White House never has to block the enforcement agency from getting to the bottom of this. The American people deserve answers.”

 

Martin served on Bush’s election campaign and worked in the White House before joining the FCC.

NSA secrecy makes investigation impossible, FCC says (by William M. Welch, USA Today)

FCC Refuses to Investigate NSA Program, Predicting Likely Administration Road Blocks (Congressman Ed Markey Web Site)

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Suggested Reforms:

Just Get Rid of the FCC

Unlike those who want to reshape FCC policies, some have argued that it’s time to just eliminate the commission altogether. CNET political correspondent Declan McCullagh argues that the FCC has failed time and time again to do the right thing and that it has outlived its usefulness.

 

McCullagh writes: “Consider some examples of bureaucratic malfeasance that the FCC, with the complicity of the US Congress, has committed. The FCC rejected long-distance telephone service competition in 1968, banned Americans from buying their own non-Bell telephones in 1956, dragged its feet in the 1970s when considering whether video telephones would be allowed and did not grant modern cellular telephone licenses until 1981—about four decades after Bell Labs invented the technology. Along the way, the FCC has preserved monopolistic practices that would have otherwise been illegal under antitrust law.”

Perspective: Why the FCC should die (by Declan McCullagh, CNet)

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Debate:

Net Neutrality

 

It may not be the catchiest of expressions, but “net neutrality” represents one of the most important issues affecting the Internet and communications in the 21st century. What it comes down to is whether the government can and should tell Internet service providers (ISPs) to charge all customers, big and small alike, the same amount of money, regardless of how much bandwidth they consume.

 

So far, the Federal Communications Commission has been unable to impose net neutrality on ISPs. When it did try, Comcast went to court and won its case. The court said the FCC lacked the authority to tell telecoms how to run their operations.

 

Pro

Those in favor of net neutrality want the FCC to force ISPs, especially large ones like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner, to not charge different rates based on the size of the content (such as video) being sent over the Internet. Advocates argue that net neutrality is about equal access to the Web, and that service providers should not be permitted to discriminate against competitors or content.

 

Con

Opponents of net neutrality want a two-tiered system that would allow ISPs, including broadband providers, to charge a fee for faster service. They argue it is a fundamental part of doing business, that if you want better service for something, you have to pay more than for the basic standard. Charging more is essential, given the impact that video, image, and audio files have on Web communications, critics of net neutrality say.

4 Political Concepts Ruined by Their Boring Names (by David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Court Rules Internet Providers Can Control User Traffic (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

AT&T Asks Employees and Their Families to Protest Net Neutrality (AllGov)

 

 

Concentrating Media Ownership

The FCC in 2003 approved controversial new rules allowing large media companies to expand their ownership of television and radio stations. The Republican-led commission, with Michael Powell at the helm, voted 3-2 to allow broadcast networks to own television stations that reach a combined 45% of the national audience, up from 35%. The FCC also voted to lift a ban that prevented a company from owning both a newspaper and a television or radio station, except in the smallest markets.

 

Democrats on the FCC board and Capitol Hill objected to the changes, as did consumer groups and some traditionally conservative voices. The Prometheus Radio Project, a low-power FM advocacy group, filed a lawsuit to stop the new rules from taking effect. The group was supported by a coalition of media reform organizations. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Prometheus Radio Project’s motion to stay the FCC rules, arguing that the changes were not in the public interest.

 

Also, Republicans and Democrats joined together in the U.S. Senate on a 55-40 vote to overturn the revised TV/newspaper cross ownership rule and the rule expanding a company's national TV household reach from 35% to 45%.

 

Following the backlash by the courts and the Senate, the FCC, under the leadership of Kevin Martin, declared it would continue to study the issue and possibly revive it at a later time. In December 2007, the FCC approved another set of rules to allow greater cross ownership of media sources. One rule stipulated that no one cable company can control more than 30% of the market. The second rule moved toward industry deregulation by relaxing newspaper/broadcast cross ownership regulations. With newspapers suffering from diminished ad revenue due to Internet competition, the new rule provided more leeway for newspapers to purchase TV and radio stations in the nation’s top 20 markets. In 2008, the Senate voted to rescind the rule.

FCC adopts media ownership rules: Proposal passed by party-line vote allows networks to reach 45% of national audience (CNN Money)

Resolution of Disapproval: Federal Communications Commission Media Ownership Rules (FreePress)

 

Pro

Backed by television networks and large media companies, the FCC’s Republican appointees argued that the current FCC rules were “out-of-date relics” from a bygone era when most people had access to only three major networks and a handful of independent or public television stations. Today, with about 119 million households having access to dozens of channels with cable or satellite television service, not to mention access to the Internet, the media playing field is so broad that the proposed changes would not have the adverse effects that critics claimed. With so many TV, radio, and Web outlets, there would still be a great deal of media diversity to allow consumers to access a broad range of options and perspectives.

 

Furthermore, major broadcast networks argued that their businesses were only marginally profitable at best and that in order to compete with cable networks, they needed to own more of the profitable affiliates that carry their programming.

The Myth of Media Concentration: Why the FCC's Media Ownership Rules Are Unnecessary (by James Gattuso, Heritage Foundation)

 

Con

Critics of the changes argued that they would stifle different voices from being heard on American airwaves. They point to the consolidation of ownership of radio stations after rules on ownership in that sector were modified as an example of what will happen under the new rules. Children Now argued that greater media concentration would have a serious negative impact on the availability and diversity of children’s programming.

 

Joining the chorus of left-leaning voices were such stalwart members of the right as conservative New York Times columnist William Safire and the National Rifle Association. Safire wrote, “The concentration of power—political, corporate, media, cultural—should be anathema to conservatives. The diffusion of power through local control, thereby encouraging individual participation, is the essence of federalism and the greatest expression of democracy,” wrote Safire. “That's why I march uncomfortably alongside CodePink Women for Peace and the National Rifle Association, between liberal Olympia Snowe and conservative Ted Stevens under the banner of ‘localism, competition and diversity of views.’”

Children Now Testimony Before FCC (pdf)

The Great Media Gulp (by William Safire, New York Times)

 

 

Localism Debate Revives Fairness Doctrine

In the 24 years since the FCC did away with the Fairness Doctrine, some FCC watchers have called for new regulations by federal regulators to encourage more local programming on television stations. In December 2007, the FCC proposed new rules that could force broadcasters to offer more information on local content to win license renewals from the commission. New requirements include a minimum amount of local programming, maintaining a physical presence at each station and setting up permanent advisory boards for each renewal license.

FCC Information on Localism

 

Pro

Unlike the debate over media concentration, those supporting the FCC’s rules governing localism come from the left or non-partisan ranks, such as The Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, the Benton Foundation, New America Foundation, Media Access Project, United Church of Christ and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. They have supported the FCC requirements that would require closer evaluation of local content. Some also have urged the FCC to require broadcasters to disclose information regarding political advertisers and advertisement purchases on the Web.

 

Con

Opposing the localism plan are broadcasters and conservatives. Broadcasters argue that the FCC is going too far in stepping up scrutiny of how much local content they air. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) told then-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin in a letter that adopting the rules requiring community content-advisory boards and giving the commission regular reports on what stations are programming in a variety of categories would be a “stealth enactment of the Fairness Doctrine.” He also accused the commission of “proposing no less than a sweeping takeover by Washington bureaucrats of broadcast media.”

 

Also opposing the plan are Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Christian Coalition of America and Citizens United. “Imposing rules that would require broadcasters to provide a certain amount of programming produced locally, as well as to establish politically correct advisory boards to assist with determining programming content and to fill out all kinds of burdensome paperwork for government regulators to police, is bad public policy,” they wrote.

 

Supporters of conservative talk radio, especially Rush Limbaugh, have decried the localism effort as a scheme that could threaten such voices from being aired.

Broadcasters blast FCC localism proposals (by Matthew Lasar, Ars Technica)

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Former Directors:

Michael J. Copps (January 2009 - June 2009)

Kevin J. Martin (March 2005 - January 2009)

Michael Powell (January 22, 2001-March 17, 2005)

William Kennard (November 3, 1997-January 19, 2001)

Reed Hundt (November 29, 1993-November 3, 1997)

James Quello (February 5, 1993-November 28, 1993)

Alfred Sikes (August 8, 1989-January 19, 1993)

Dennis Patrick (April 18, 1987-August 7, 1989)

Mark Fowler (May 18, 1981-April 17, 1987)

Robert Lee (February 5, 1981-May 18, 1981)

Charles Ferris (October 17, 1977-February 4, 1981)

Richard Wiley (March 8, 1974-October 13, 1977)

Dean Burch (October 31, 1969-March 8, 1974)

Rosel Hyde (May 1, 1966-October 31, 1969)

E. William Henry (June 2, 1963-May 1, 1966)

Newton Minow (March 2, 1961-June 1, 1963)

Frederick Ford (March 15, 1960-March 1, 1961)

John Doerfer (July 1, 1957-March 10, 1960)

George McConnaughey (October 4, 1954-June 30, 1957)

Rosel Hyde (April 18, 1953-October 4, 1954)

Paul Walker (February 28, 1952-April 17, 1953)

Wayne Cox (December 29, 1947-February 21, 1952)

Paul Walker (November 3, 1947-December 28, 1947)

Charles Denny (February 26, 1946-October 31, 1946)

Paul Porter (December 21, 1944-February 25, 1946)

Ewell Jett (November 16, 1944-December 20, 1944)

James Lawrence Fly (September 1, 1939-November 13, 1944)

Frank McNinch (October 1, 1937-August 31, 1939)

Anning Prowell (March 9, 1935-July 23, 1937)

Eugene Sykes (July 11, 1934-March 8, 1935)

Commissioners from 1934 to Present

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See all 70 comments

Comments

r tropeano 6 days ago
The TV show about children playing football "Teen Tykes?", is ABUSE against children. Any parent doing what those (so-called) coaches do, would be arrest for abuse. A copy was sent to the Attorney General and our local news agency. Please stop this abuse!!!
L. Dickson 2 weeks ago
Regarding investigation of Stephen Colbert's purported "rant," I strongly disagree with the claim that it was inappropriate. That episode had the same tone as his other features. It is the responsibility of comedians to highlight the questionable behavior of public persons, particlarly​ when it comes to freedom of speech.
Susan long 2 months ago
It is time to look into the Hearst Corp. gouging the American people for free airways. I have DISH in California and in the middle of a program on KCRA the channel went dead. It is time to look seriously into the way these companies are being run, and how they just happen to do this before major events. I pay extra for my local channels. It is the only way I can keep up with what is going on in my Northern California area. With several disasters (i.e. Oroville Dam and Folsom Dam) I rely on the news.
Richard Brosius 2 months ago
Something needs to be done about TV broadcasting and satellite companies. In my house we watch NBC about 75% of the time and currently it has been taken away from us because the broadcaster and DishNetwork can not agree on a contract renewal. Why isn't it possible to pass a law that would require these companies to continue our TV programming and to enter into binding arbitration if a contract renewal is not in place by the expiration date???
Janet 3 months ago
How can a satellite company charge for locals channels, when a consumer can get them for free with having a antenna. That is not right to the consumer.I feel that we are getting ripped off, maybe I am wrong but that is how I feel
Colonel Jon Dale Hollabaugh, USMCR(Ret) 3 months ago
10Feb17 - Listening to Rush Limbaugh, AM 540, at 1044-1046 (LV Time) this date; Limbaugh's comments (relaying an expert's (I think 'McCarthy's') opinion)supporting Pres Trumps' immigration EO, were scrambled with un-intelligible noise. I believe that the scrambling was purposeful! Please replay for yourselves and report - thank you. Col Hollabaugh, USMCR(Ret)702-240-7089 Thank you.
Dianna Ballew 3 months ago
We have internet through CenturyLink...no phone or TV. Because they want to put videos for ads and articles on their website, it is almost impossible to do anything on the internet without interruption. That interruption will freeze up the website and the emails coming in or going out will not work; as well as the main website page. They recommend paying for better fiber optics cable to be installed at my expense. WHY????? It is there company, their cable, their idea to put EVERYTHING ON VIDEO; not MINE. So why can't they improve their own equipment if they want to put streaming ads and videos about current events on their website. WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY FOR SOMETHING I DID ASK FOR, NOR DO I WANT, NOR DO I NEED????????? Dianna
Livit Callentine 3 months ago
DC wrote 2 weeks ago: "There seems to be obvious fake news coming from CNN. It would be appropriate for the FCC to suspend or revoke their broadcasting license . Our press is suppose to be free to print the truth not fabricate lies. How can we rely on our news media when such offenses go unpunished. I among many am tired of being confounded by not knowing who to believe." Please, DC, point me to specific examples of "fake news coming from CNN." I do not work in media so I don't know how to spot a fake.
DC 4 months ago
There seems to be obvious fake news coming from CNN. It would be appropriate for the FCC to suspend or revoke their broadcasting license . Our press is suppose to be free to print the truth not fabricate lies. How can we rely on our news media when such offenses go unpunished. I among many am tired of being confounded by not knowing who to believe.
Saul Rubin 6 months ago
I am strongly opposed to the merger of AT&T and Time-Warner. My experiences with AT&T indicates that there is a constant communications breakdown between the agents abroad and in the United States and those who supervise. Meaning that you get one agent who provides a correction in a bill and then there is no correction when the paper copy arrives and you have to go through the process of correction again and again. I have two homes and two phone bills. I pay both bills on time but in one instance they deposited the two checks in the same account and then declared the second account delinquent with a $9 late fee and then sent me a check for the amount overpaid in the first account. This is clear evidence that AT&T is poorly managed--can't integrate its own system--and is not in a position to take on a vast network like Time-Warner and run it properly. AT&T first needs to get its house in order. It does not unction correctly and leads to aggravation and unnecessary frustration. One needs to read the complaint lines to realize how bad the management is

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Founded: 1934
Annual Budget: $356.7 million (FY 2013 Request)
Employees: 1,917 (FY 2013 Estimate)
Official Website: http://www.fcc.gov/
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Pai, Ajit
Chairman

Ajit Pai, who has been a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) since 2012, took over as chairman on January 23, 2017.

 

Pai was born in Buffalo, New York, on January 10, 1973, to Radha and Varadaraj Pai, both physicians. The family soon moved to Parsons, Kansas, where the elder Pais worked at the county hospital.

 

Pai attended Harvard and earned a B.A. in social studies in 1994 and went on to the University of Chicago law school, where he earned his J.D. in 1997. After graduation, Pai clerked for federal Judge Martin L.C. Feldman in the Eastern District of Louisiana.

 

In 1998, Pai went to work as a trial attorney for the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, in its telecommunications task force, where he worked on what was then the largest merger in U.S. history, between Sprint and WorldCom. Pai left federal service in 2001 to become associate general counsel for Verizon.

 

Pai returned to the government, this time the Senate, in 2003, when he served as deputy chief counsel on the Judiciary Committee on the Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Court under then-Chairman Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama). The following year, he was back in the Justice Department as senior counsel in the Office of Legal Policy. Pai returned to the Judiciary Committee in 2005 as chief counsel to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights under then-Chairman Sam Brownback (R-Kansas).

 

Pai moved to the FCC in 2007, as special adviser to the general counsel, associate general counsel and deputy general counsel. In 2011, he returned to private practice, this time with the law firm of Jenner and Block as a partner, working there until getting a seat on the FCC.

 

When Pai took over as FCC chairman, he couldn’t wait to roll back consumer protections enacted under the Obama administration. His actions, many done late on a Friday with virtually no public notice, included:

 

·       Declaring that the FCC would not defend its rule capping intrastate prison phone charges. Such charges run over $1 a minute in some cases, and under the Obama administration, rules were set to cap them at 11 cents a minute. Now prisons will be free to jack up those rates, hurting prisoners’ families who usually can ill-afford such charges.

·       Beginning to erode net-neutrality rules when he closed an investigation into zero-rating practices of some wireless providers, including his old employer, Verizon. Zero-rating allows a provider to offer free streaming of some services, forcing users to pay more when using a competitor.

·       Forbidding nine providers from joining those allowed to offer discounted internet service for the poor. The founder of one of the nine, Kajeet, told The Los Angeles Times: “I’m most concerned about the children we serve,” Daniel Neal said. “We partner with school districts—41 states and the District of Columbia—to provide educational broadband so that poor kids can do their homework.”

·       Killing an attempt to open the cable-box market so that consumers aren’t forced to pay monthly rental fees to TV providers that far outweigh the cost of the equipment. 

 

“With these strong-arm tactics, Chairman Pai is showing his true stripes,” Matt Wood, policy director at the consumer group Free Press, told The New York Times. “The public wants an FCC that helps people. Instead, it got one that does favors for the powerful corporations that its chairman used to work for.”

 

Pai is married to Janine Van Lancker, an allergist-immunologist. They have two children: Alexander and Annabelle.

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More:

FCC Stops 9 Companies From Providing Poor Federally Subsidized Internet (by Allen Cone, UPI)

Trump’s FCC Quickly Targets Net Neutrality Rules (by Cecilia Kang, New York Times)

FCC Made a Case for Limiting Cost of Prison Phone Calls. Not Anymore. (by Ann E. Marimow, Washington Post)

Nominations of Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai to the Federal Communications Commission (Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation)

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Wheeler, Tom
Previous Chair

The revolving door between big business and government is spinning again. Despite his promise during the 2008 campaign that lobbyists would take a back seat in his administration, President Barack Obama recently nominated a long-time telecommunications lobbyist—who has also donated and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his campaigns—to serve as the next chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the independent federal agency that plays the principle role in regulating the telecom industry. If confirmed by Senate as expected, Tom Wheeler would succeed Julius Genachowski, also a big Obama donor and bundler, who has been FCC Chair since 2009. 

 

Born circa 1946, Wheeler earned a B.S. at the Ohio State University in 1968. Getting into telecom during the formative years of cable TV and wireless communications, Wheeler is, as Obama observed, “the only member of both the cable television and the wireless industry hall of fame.”

 

Starting his career at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Wheeler joined the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) in 1976, and was its president (and hence chief lobbyist) from 1979 to 1984. After working as CEO of several technology start-ups, he became the CEO and president of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), from June 1992 to November 2003. Since September 2004, Wheeler has been an executive at the Washington, D.C.-based firm Core Capital Partners, which manages about $350 million in assets.

 

Wheeler became a political supporter of Barack Obama at the beginning of his 2008 presidential run, serving on his exploratory committee and National Finance Committee. In addition to personally donating up to the legal limit, Wheeler also raised money from others—called bundling—for Obama, to the tune of more than $700,000, and even temporarily relocated to Iowa to campaign for Obama. Wheeler also campaigned in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. After the election, Obama chose Wheeler to lead the transition team’s review of the science, technology, space, and arts agencies. At the time, Wheeler stated publicly that he did not want an administration job.

 

Appointed by Presidents Bill Clinton and Geroge W. Bush, Wheeler served as a trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for 12 years. He is the former chairman of the Foundation for the National Archives, and board member of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). He serves and has served on the boards of numerous corporations, especially in the telecom field.

 

Wheeler wrote Take Command: Leadership Lessons of the Civil War (Doubleday, 2000) and Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War (HarperCollins, 2006).

 

Although telecom companies and their lobbies—including both organizations formerly headed by Wheeler—issued statements praising the nominee, some in the public interest community have serious doubts as to his ability to rise above his corporate background. “The Federal Communications Commission needs a strong leader—someone who will use this powerful position to stand up to industry giants and protect the public interest,” said Free Press president Craig Aaron. “On paper, Tom Wheeler does not appear to be that person, having headed not one but two major trade associations. But he now has the opportunity to prove his critics wrong, clean up the mess left by his predecessor, be the public servant we so badly need at the FCC.”

 

Tom Wheeler is married to Carol Wheeler.

 

To Learn More:

Tom Wheeler, Former Lobbyist and Obama Fundraiser, Tapped to Lead FCC (by Sam Gustin, Time)

Telecom Investor Named to Be F.C.C. Chairman (by Edward Wyatt, New York Times)

Meet Tom Wheeler, the man who could control your digital life (by Chris Ziegler, The Verge)

Mobile Musings (Wheeler's blog)

New Entrant Ethics Forms for Tom Wheeler (U.S. Office of Government Ethics)

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Overview:

An independent agency of the federal government, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees the television, radio and telephone industries in the United States. The FCC’s key responsibilities range from issuing operating licenses for radio and TV stations to maintaining decency standards designed to protect the public good. The commission is led by a five-member partisan board consisting of Republican and Democratic nominees selected by the President.

 
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History:

When Congress passed the Communications Act of 1934 (pdf), it abolished the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) and transferred jurisdiction over radio licensing to a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which took over the operations and precedents of the FRC. Concerned over the growing power of large corporations and conglomerates, the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt wanted the FCC to make sure the country’s budding mass communications systems did not fall into the hands of a select few.

 

In 1940 the FCC injected itself into the business affairs of the radio industry by issuing the “Report on Chain Broadcasting” and ordering the breakup of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), which ultimately led to the creation of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). The FCC also established precedents for how much air time networks could demand of affiliate stations and the time of day that network broadcasting could air. Previously a network could demand any time it wanted from an affiliate. The commission also did away with networks’ ability to serve as both agents and employees of artists who performed for radio programs on grounds that the situation posed a conflict of interest.

 

With the advent of television in the 1940s, the FCC became an important player in the development of this new medium. The commission issued licenses for new television stations to begin broadcasting—a responsibility that didn’t always go smoothly. After the end of World War II, the FCC assigned television stations to various cities and inadvertently placed many stations too close to each other, resulting in signal interference.

 

The FCC also helped shape the manner in which television stations delivered their signals, either through very high frequency (VHF) or ultra high frequency (UHF). Many earlier TV stations utilized VHF channels 2 through 13, but the commission soon realized that VHF alone was inadequate for nationwide television service. As a result, the FCC encouraged the licensing of stations that used UHF signals. In some cases, commissioners forced channels to switch from one frequency to another or ordered certain VHF channels off the air in smaller markets, like Peoria, Fresno, and Bakersfield, to create markets that were UHF “islands.” The development of color television was another important milestone that the FCC had to address, as was the newly emerging field of educational television, for which the commission established rules protecting its foothold in television markets against commercially driven programming.

 

The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1981 accelerated an already on-going 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. Critics said the Fairness Doctrine did not extend to expanding communications technologies, and that the doctrine was limiting public debate. 

 

Originally introduced in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine (also known as the Report on Editorializing by Broadcast Licensees) was applied on a case-by-case basis until 1967 when certain parts of the doctrine became part of the FCC’s regulations. The Fairness Doctrine required broadcast licensees to present issues of public importance, no matter how controversial, in a fair, balanced, and equitable manner. It was meant to diminish personal attacks and ensured equal time to respond to assertions made on air. 

 

FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler began to repeal parts of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, attempting to restore First Amendment rights he felt had been stripped away. This increased competition among broadcasters and paved the way for alternatives, such as cable television. 

 

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 followed the Justice Department’s antitrust suit against AT&T, which forced the company to break into smaller “Baby Bells.” The legislation tried to create more competition among local phone service providers by requiring Local Exchange Carriers to provide access to their facilities. It outlined regulations on obscene programming and removed many of the regulations limiting media ownership. This allowed greater consolidation among carriers and led to the development of the Internet, cable and wireless services. 

 

During the administration of President George W. Bush, the FCC shifted its focus to matters of obscenity and indecency, especially following Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during a Super Bowl halftime show in January 2004. President Bush signed the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005, which stiffened penalties for each violation of FCC rules, up to $325,000.

 

Although the FCC does not regulate the Internet, or Internet Service Providers, it has been instrumental in advancing VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology, which allows callers to make and receive calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of an analog phone line. In 2005, the FCC imposed 911 obligations on VoIP service providers, including the requirement that users had to be able to make and receive calls from the regular telephone network. This arose after some VoIP users had trouble reaching the 911 emergency network. VoIP service providers are also required to comply with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (CALEA) and to support the Universal Service Fund, which supports assistance for income-eligible telephone subscribers.

 

In December 2007, the FCC approved rules that set new parameters on the size of the largest news and cable companies. One rule stipulated that no one cable company can control more than 30% of the market. The second rule moved toward industry deregulation by relaxing newspaper/broadcast cross ownership regulations. With newspapers suffering from diminished ad revenue due to Internet competition, the new rule provided more leeway for newspapers to purchase TV and radio stations in the nation’s top 20 markets. In 2008, the Senate voted to rescind the rule.

 

In 2009, with support of the Obama administration, the FCC proposed “net neutrality” rules designed to enforce mandates on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and wireless carriers to prevent discrimination against applications and content, ensuring equal treatment of all Internet traffic. The rules were fine-tuned in December 2010. In April 2011, House Republicans passed a bill to repeal the rules, and federal courts are hearing several legal challenges.

 

In July 2010, a federal appeals court struck down the FCC’s “indecency policy” that levied fines against TV networks whose programs including “fleeting expletives.” The ruling stated that the FCC rule was “unconstitutionally vague” and had “a chilling effect” on broadcast content.

 

In May 2011, the FCC launched a study into the controversy over the alleged “location tracking” capability of so-called smart phones, whereby popularly used cell phones—such as Apple’s iPhone—have been discovered to be storing location data for up to a year, even when location software was not in use.

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What it Does:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent government agency responsible for regulating the radio, television and phone industries. The FCC regulates all interstate communications, such as wire, satellite and cable, and international communications originating or terminating in the United States. 

 

Leading the FCC are five commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms. The President designates one of the commissioners to serve as chairperson. Only three commissioners may be members of the same political party, and none of them can have a financial interest in any commission-related business.

 

The FCC is organized into seven bureaus and ten staff offices. In general, the bureaus handle license applications and related filings, as well as analyzing complaints, developing and enacting regulations, conducting investigations and participating in hearings. The seven bureaus are:

 

Consumer & Governmental Affairs (CGB) oversees the FCC’s consumer policies, including disability access. It handles outreach and education through its Consumer Center, which responds to consumer questions and complaints. CGB also collaborates with state, local and tribal governments to ensure emergency preparedness.

 

Enforcement Bureau is responsible for enforcing the provisions of the Communications Act of 1934, as well as FCC rules, orders, terms and conditions of station authorizations. This bureau helps to foster local competition and consumer protection, public safety and homeland security.

 

International Bureau (IB) helps to develop international telecommunications policy on issues such as allocation of frequencies and minimizing electromagnetic interference. IB is responsible for maintaining FCC compliance with the International Radio Regulations and other international agreements. 

 

Media Bureau develops and implements policy and licensing programs relating to electronic media, such as cable television, broadcast television and radio. Post-licensing for direct broadcast satellite services also falls within its purview.

 

Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is responsible for all FCC wireless telecommunications programs, policies and outreach programs. These services include amateur radio, cellular networks, pagers, personal Communications Service, Part 27 Wireless Communications Services and fixed, mobile and broadcast services in the 700 MHz band. 

 

Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) assists in policy development for wireline telecommunications (broadband) to promote growth and investments in infrastructure, development, markets and services.

 

Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau develops and implements communications for use during emergencies and crises. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, this bureau was added to make sure public safety, health, defense and emergency personnel, and consumers can communicate during times of greatest need.

 

FCC Offices

Ten staff offices provide support for the bureaus. They are:

  • Office of Administrative Law Judges conducts hearings ordered by the commission. The hearing function includes acting on interlocutory requests filed in the proceedings, such as petitions to intervene, petitions to enlarge issues and contested discovery requests. An administrative law judge, appointed under the Administrative Procedure Act, presides at the hearing during which documents and sworn testimony are received in evidence and witnesses are cross-examined. At the conclusion of the evidentiary phase of a proceeding, the presiding judge writes and issues an Initial Decision, which may be appealed to the commission.
  • Office of Communications Business Opportunities (OCBO) promotes telecommunications business opportunities for small, minority-owned and women-owned businesses. OCBO works with entrepreneurs, industry, public interest organizations, individuals and others to provide information about FCC policies, increase ownership and employment opportunities, foster a diversity of voices and viewpoints over the airwaves, and encourage participation in FCC proceedings.
  • Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) advises the FCC concerning engineering matters. Its chief role is to manage the electromagnetic spectrum, specifically frequency allocation and spectrum usage. OET conducts technical studies of advanced phases of terrestrial and space communications and administers FCC rules regarding radio devices, experimental radio services and industrial, scientific and medical equipment. OET also organizes the Technical Advisory Council, a committee of FCC advisors from major telecommunication and media corporations. In addition, the office operates the Equipment Authorization Branch, which is tasked with overseeing equipment authorization for all devices using the electromagnetic energy from 9 kHz to 300 GHz. OET maintains an electronic database of all certified equipment that can be easily accessed by the public.
  • Office of General Counsel serves as the FCC’s chief legal adviser. The general counsel also represents the commission in litigation in federal courts, recommends decisions in adjudicatory matters before the commission, assists the commission in its decision making capacity and performs a variety of legal functions regarding internal and other administrative matters.
  • Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recommends policies to prevent fraud in agency operations. The inspector general recommends corrective action where appropriate, referring criminal matters to the Department of Justice for potential prosecution.
  • Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA) is the FCC’s liaison to Congress, providing lawmakers with information about FCC regulations. OLA also prepares FCC witnesses for congressional hearings and helps create FCC responses to legislative proposals and congressional inquiries. In addition, OLA is a liaison to other federal agencies as well as state and local governments.
  • Office of the Managing Director is responsible for the administration and management of the FCC, including the agency’s budget, personnel, security, contracts and publications.
  • Office of Media Relations disseminates FCC announcements, orders, proceedings and other information per media requests. The office manages the FCC Daily Digest, web site and Audio Visual Center.
  • Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis (OSP) is the FCC’s think tank that identifies policy objectives for the agency. It works closely with the FCC chairman and is responsible for monitoring the state of the communications industry to identify trends, issues and overall industry health. The office acts as expert consultants to the commission in areas of economic, business and market analysis. It also reviews legal trends and developments not necessarily related to current FCC proceedings, such as intellectual property law, the Internet, and electronic commerce.
  • Office of Workplace Diversity develops policy to provide a full and fair opportunity for all employees, regardless of non-merit factors such as race, religion, gender, color, age, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

 

From the Web Site of the Federal Communications Commission

Advisory Committees

Articles

Blog

Bureaus and Offices

Business and Licensing

Calendar

Contact Information

Contracting

Court Opinions

Data

Events

Events - Live

Filing Comments

Filing Complaints

Guides

Jobs and Internships

Leadership

Meetings – Open to Public

Mergers and Acquisitions

News Archive

Newsroom

Online Filing

Reports

Rulemaking

Strategic Plans and Budgets

Tools and Data

Working Papers

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Where Does the Money Go:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) spent $647.5 million on 6,813 contractor transactions during the past decade. According to USASpending.gov, the FCC paid for a variety of services in support of its mandate, from automated information system design ($95.6 million) to systems engineering ($80.8 million) and ADP systems development ($53.3 million).

 

The top four contractors are as follows:

1. Computech                                                                                               $124,068,097

2. AAC Inc.                                                                                                    $57,562,213

3. Computer Sciences Corp.                                                                           $48,807,969

4. TeleTech Holdings Inc.                                                                               $28,387,503 

 

FCC FY 2013 Budget Estimates Submitted to Congress (pdf)

                                                             

Computech, the FCC’s largest contractor over the last decade, is responsible for helping the FCC develop and implement Automated Auction Systems (AAS), which helped to choose licensees for electromagnetic spectrum awards. The FCC had previously relied on hearings and lotteries to select single licensees. But with AAS, the FCC used simultaneous competitive bidding and generated revenue for the U.S. Treasury. Users dialed in to a call center and used FCC software to place bids. As Internet use became more prevalent, this system was redone as a web application called the Integrated Spectrum Auction System (ISAS) and has resulted in more than 55,000 spectrum licenses, valued in excess of $50 billion.

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Controversies:

FCC Study Suppressed

A former Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  lawyer accused the commission of destroying a draft study that conflicted with the FCC’s earlier attempt to liberalize media ownership. The 2004 study reportedly showed that greater concentration of media ownership would hurt local TV news coverage.

 

The analysis showed local ownership of television stations added almost five and one-half minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of “on-location” news. The conclusion 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.

 

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) was dismayed when she heard the news of the report and sent a letter to the FCC demanding to know what happened. Then-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who was on the commission at the time that the report was written, said he knew nothing about it, nor did his staff.

Lawyer Says FCC Ordered Study Destroyed (by John Dunbar, Associated Press)

Spiked media-ownership study raises new concerns (Associated Press)

FCC probe finds no suppression of media-ownership report (Associated Press)

 

FCC Won’t Investigate Phone Companies Involved in NSA Wiretapping

Following the 2006 revelation that some of the largest phone companies in the United States had helped the Bush administration collect phone records illegally, the FCC was asked to look into the matter. The FCC’s response: No can do.

 

Citing the secretive nature of the National Security Agency, then-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said, “The classified nature of the NSA’s activities make us unable to investigate the alleged violations” of privacy. Congressional Democrats were outraged by the commission’s unwillingness to get involved.

 

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), then the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, said: “We can’t have a situation where the FCC, charged with enforcing the law, won’t even begin an investigation of apparent violations of the law because it predicts the Administration will roadblock any investigations citing national security. If the FCC initiates an investigation and gets blocked by the White House, then the White House is stonewalling. But if the FCC refuses to even demand answers, then the White House never has to block the enforcement agency from getting to the bottom of this. The American people deserve answers.”

 

Martin served on Bush’s election campaign and worked in the White House before joining the FCC.

NSA secrecy makes investigation impossible, FCC says (by William M. Welch, USA Today)

FCC Refuses to Investigate NSA Program, Predicting Likely Administration Road Blocks (Congressman Ed Markey Web Site)

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Suggested Reforms:

Just Get Rid of the FCC

Unlike those who want to reshape FCC policies, some have argued that it’s time to just eliminate the commission altogether. CNET political correspondent Declan McCullagh argues that the FCC has failed time and time again to do the right thing and that it has outlived its usefulness.

 

McCullagh writes: “Consider some examples of bureaucratic malfeasance that the FCC, with the complicity of the US Congress, has committed. The FCC rejected long-distance telephone service competition in 1968, banned Americans from buying their own non-Bell telephones in 1956, dragged its feet in the 1970s when considering whether video telephones would be allowed and did not grant modern cellular telephone licenses until 1981—about four decades after Bell Labs invented the technology. Along the way, the FCC has preserved monopolistic practices that would have otherwise been illegal under antitrust law.”

Perspective: Why the FCC should die (by Declan McCullagh, CNet)

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Debate:

Net Neutrality

 

It may not be the catchiest of expressions, but “net neutrality” represents one of the most important issues affecting the Internet and communications in the 21st century. What it comes down to is whether the government can and should tell Internet service providers (ISPs) to charge all customers, big and small alike, the same amount of money, regardless of how much bandwidth they consume.

 

So far, the Federal Communications Commission has been unable to impose net neutrality on ISPs. When it did try, Comcast went to court and won its case. The court said the FCC lacked the authority to tell telecoms how to run their operations.

 

Pro

Those in favor of net neutrality want the FCC to force ISPs, especially large ones like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner, to not charge different rates based on the size of the content (such as video) being sent over the Internet. Advocates argue that net neutrality is about equal access to the Web, and that service providers should not be permitted to discriminate against competitors or content.

 

Con

Opponents of net neutrality want a two-tiered system that would allow ISPs, including broadband providers, to charge a fee for faster service. They argue it is a fundamental part of doing business, that if you want better service for something, you have to pay more than for the basic standard. Charging more is essential, given the impact that video, image, and audio files have on Web communications, critics of net neutrality say.

4 Political Concepts Ruined by Their Boring Names (by David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Court Rules Internet Providers Can Control User Traffic (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

AT&T Asks Employees and Their Families to Protest Net Neutrality (AllGov)

 

 

Concentrating Media Ownership

The FCC in 2003 approved controversial new rules allowing large media companies to expand their ownership of television and radio stations. The Republican-led commission, with Michael Powell at the helm, voted 3-2 to allow broadcast networks to own television stations that reach a combined 45% of the national audience, up from 35%. The FCC also voted to lift a ban that prevented a company from owning both a newspaper and a television or radio station, except in the smallest markets.

 

Democrats on the FCC board and Capitol Hill objected to the changes, as did consumer groups and some traditionally conservative voices. The Prometheus Radio Project, a low-power FM advocacy group, filed a lawsuit to stop the new rules from taking effect. The group was supported by a coalition of media reform organizations. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Prometheus Radio Project’s motion to stay the FCC rules, arguing that the changes were not in the public interest.

 

Also, Republicans and Democrats joined together in the U.S. Senate on a 55-40 vote to overturn the revised TV/newspaper cross ownership rule and the rule expanding a company's national TV household reach from 35% to 45%.

 

Following the backlash by the courts and the Senate, the FCC, under the leadership of Kevin Martin, declared it would continue to study the issue and possibly revive it at a later time. In December 2007, the FCC approved another set of rules to allow greater cross ownership of media sources. One rule stipulated that no one cable company can control more than 30% of the market. The second rule moved toward industry deregulation by relaxing newspaper/broadcast cross ownership regulations. With newspapers suffering from diminished ad revenue due to Internet competition, the new rule provided more leeway for newspapers to purchase TV and radio stations in the nation’s top 20 markets. In 2008, the Senate voted to rescind the rule.

FCC adopts media ownership rules: Proposal passed by party-line vote allows networks to reach 45% of national audience (CNN Money)

Resolution of Disapproval: Federal Communications Commission Media Ownership Rules (FreePress)

 

Pro

Backed by television networks and large media companies, the FCC’s Republican appointees argued that the current FCC rules were “out-of-date relics” from a bygone era when most people had access to only three major networks and a handful of independent or public television stations. Today, with about 119 million households having access to dozens of channels with cable or satellite television service, not to mention access to the Internet, the media playing field is so broad that the proposed changes would not have the adverse effects that critics claimed. With so many TV, radio, and Web outlets, there would still be a great deal of media diversity to allow consumers to access a broad range of options and perspectives.

 

Furthermore, major broadcast networks argued that their businesses were only marginally profitable at best and that in order to compete with cable networks, they needed to own more of the profitable affiliates that carry their programming.

The Myth of Media Concentration: Why the FCC's Media Ownership Rules Are Unnecessary (by James Gattuso, Heritage Foundation)

 

Con

Critics of the changes argued that they would stifle different voices from being heard on American airwaves. They point to the consolidation of ownership of radio stations after rules on ownership in that sector were modified as an example of what will happen under the new rules. Children Now argued that greater media concentration would have a serious negative impact on the availability and diversity of children’s programming.

 

Joining the chorus of left-leaning voices were such stalwart members of the right as conservative New York Times columnist William Safire and the National Rifle Association. Safire wrote, “The concentration of power—political, corporate, media, cultural—should be anathema to conservatives. The diffusion of power through local control, thereby encouraging individual participation, is the essence of federalism and the greatest expression of democracy,” wrote Safire. “That's why I march uncomfortably alongside CodePink Women for Peace and the National Rifle Association, between liberal Olympia Snowe and conservative Ted Stevens under the banner of ‘localism, competition and diversity of views.’”

Children Now Testimony Before FCC (pdf)

The Great Media Gulp (by William Safire, New York Times)

 

 

Localism Debate Revives Fairness Doctrine

In the 24 years since the FCC did away with the Fairness Doctrine, some FCC watchers have called for new regulations by federal regulators to encourage more local programming on television stations. In December 2007, the FCC proposed new rules that could force broadcasters to offer more information on local content to win license renewals from the commission. New requirements include a minimum amount of local programming, maintaining a physical presence at each station and setting up permanent advisory boards for each renewal license.

FCC Information on Localism

 

Pro

Unlike the debate over media concentration, those supporting the FCC’s rules governing localism come from the left or non-partisan ranks, such as The Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, the Benton Foundation, New America Foundation, Media Access Project, United Church of Christ and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. They have supported the FCC requirements that would require closer evaluation of local content. Some also have urged the FCC to require broadcasters to disclose information regarding political advertisers and advertisement purchases on the Web.

 

Con

Opposing the localism plan are broadcasters and conservatives. Broadcasters argue that the FCC is going too far in stepping up scrutiny of how much local content they air. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) told then-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin in a letter that adopting the rules requiring community content-advisory boards and giving the commission regular reports on what stations are programming in a variety of categories would be a “stealth enactment of the Fairness Doctrine.” He also accused the commission of “proposing no less than a sweeping takeover by Washington bureaucrats of broadcast media.”

 

Also opposing the plan are Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Christian Coalition of America and Citizens United. “Imposing rules that would require broadcasters to provide a certain amount of programming produced locally, as well as to establish politically correct advisory boards to assist with determining programming content and to fill out all kinds of burdensome paperwork for government regulators to police, is bad public policy,” they wrote.

 

Supporters of conservative talk radio, especially Rush Limbaugh, have decried the localism effort as a scheme that could threaten such voices from being aired.

Broadcasters blast FCC localism proposals (by Matthew Lasar, Ars Technica)

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Former Directors:

Michael J. Copps (January 2009 - June 2009)

Kevin J. Martin (March 2005 - January 2009)

Michael Powell (January 22, 2001-March 17, 2005)

William Kennard (November 3, 1997-January 19, 2001)

Reed Hundt (November 29, 1993-November 3, 1997)

James Quello (February 5, 1993-November 28, 1993)

Alfred Sikes (August 8, 1989-January 19, 1993)

Dennis Patrick (April 18, 1987-August 7, 1989)

Mark Fowler (May 18, 1981-April 17, 1987)

Robert Lee (February 5, 1981-May 18, 1981)

Charles Ferris (October 17, 1977-February 4, 1981)

Richard Wiley (March 8, 1974-October 13, 1977)

Dean Burch (October 31, 1969-March 8, 1974)

Rosel Hyde (May 1, 1966-October 31, 1969)

E. William Henry (June 2, 1963-May 1, 1966)

Newton Minow (March 2, 1961-June 1, 1963)

Frederick Ford (March 15, 1960-March 1, 1961)

John Doerfer (July 1, 1957-March 10, 1960)

George McConnaughey (October 4, 1954-June 30, 1957)

Rosel Hyde (April 18, 1953-October 4, 1954)

Paul Walker (February 28, 1952-April 17, 1953)

Wayne Cox (December 29, 1947-February 21, 1952)

Paul Walker (November 3, 1947-December 28, 1947)

Charles Denny (February 26, 1946-October 31, 1946)

Paul Porter (December 21, 1944-February 25, 1946)

Ewell Jett (November 16, 1944-December 20, 1944)

James Lawrence Fly (September 1, 1939-November 13, 1944)

Frank McNinch (October 1, 1937-August 31, 1939)

Anning Prowell (March 9, 1935-July 23, 1937)

Eugene Sykes (July 11, 1934-March 8, 1935)

Commissioners from 1934 to Present

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Comments

r tropeano 6 days ago
The TV show about children playing football "Teen Tykes?", is ABUSE against children. Any parent doing what those (so-called) coaches do, would be arrest for abuse. A copy was sent to the Attorney General and our local news agency. Please stop this abuse!!!
L. Dickson 2 weeks ago
Regarding investigation of Stephen Colbert's purported "rant," I strongly disagree with the claim that it was inappropriate. That episode had the same tone as his other features. It is the responsibility of comedians to highlight the questionable behavior of public persons, particlarly​ when it comes to freedom of speech.
Susan long 2 months ago
It is time to look into the Hearst Corp. gouging the American people for free airways. I have DISH in California and in the middle of a program on KCRA the channel went dead. It is time to look seriously into the way these companies are being run, and how they just happen to do this before major events. I pay extra for my local channels. It is the only way I can keep up with what is going on in my Northern California area. With several disasters (i.e. Oroville Dam and Folsom Dam) I rely on the news.
Richard Brosius 2 months ago
Something needs to be done about TV broadcasting and satellite companies. In my house we watch NBC about 75% of the time and currently it has been taken away from us because the broadcaster and DishNetwork can not agree on a contract renewal. Why isn't it possible to pass a law that would require these companies to continue our TV programming and to enter into binding arbitration if a contract renewal is not in place by the expiration date???
Janet 3 months ago
How can a satellite company charge for locals channels, when a consumer can get them for free with having a antenna. That is not right to the consumer.I feel that we are getting ripped off, maybe I am wrong but that is how I feel
Colonel Jon Dale Hollabaugh, USMCR(Ret) 3 months ago
10Feb17 - Listening to Rush Limbaugh, AM 540, at 1044-1046 (LV Time) this date; Limbaugh's comments (relaying an expert's (I think 'McCarthy's') opinion)supporting Pres Trumps' immigration EO, were scrambled with un-intelligible noise. I believe that the scrambling was purposeful! Please replay for yourselves and report - thank you. Col Hollabaugh, USMCR(Ret)702-240-7089 Thank you.
Dianna Ballew 3 months ago
We have internet through CenturyLink...no phone or TV. Because they want to put videos for ads and articles on their website, it is almost impossible to do anything on the internet without interruption. That interruption will freeze up the website and the emails coming in or going out will not work; as well as the main website page. They recommend paying for better fiber optics cable to be installed at my expense. WHY????? It is there company, their cable, their idea to put EVERYTHING ON VIDEO; not MINE. So why can't they improve their own equipment if they want to put streaming ads and videos about current events on their website. WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY FOR SOMETHING I DID ASK FOR, NOR DO I WANT, NOR DO I NEED????????? Dianna
Livit Callentine 3 months ago
DC wrote 2 weeks ago: "There seems to be obvious fake news coming from CNN. It would be appropriate for the FCC to suspend or revoke their broadcasting license . Our press is suppose to be free to print the truth not fabricate lies. How can we rely on our news media when such offenses go unpunished. I among many am tired of being confounded by not knowing who to believe." Please, DC, point me to specific examples of "fake news coming from CNN." I do not work in media so I don't know how to spot a fake.
DC 4 months ago
There seems to be obvious fake news coming from CNN. It would be appropriate for the FCC to suspend or revoke their broadcasting license . Our press is suppose to be free to print the truth not fabricate lies. How can we rely on our news media when such offenses go unpunished. I among many am tired of being confounded by not knowing who to believe.
Saul Rubin 6 months ago
I am strongly opposed to the merger of AT&T and Time-Warner. My experiences with AT&T indicates that there is a constant communications breakdown between the agents abroad and in the United States and those who supervise. Meaning that you get one agent who provides a correction in a bill and then there is no correction when the paper copy arrives and you have to go through the process of correction again and again. I have two homes and two phone bills. I pay both bills on time but in one instance they deposited the two checks in the same account and then declared the second account delinquent with a $9 late fee and then sent me a check for the amount overpaid in the first account. This is clear evidence that AT&T is poorly managed--can't integrate its own system--and is not in a position to take on a vast network like Time-Warner and run it properly. AT&T first needs to get its house in order. It does not unction correctly and leads to aggravation and unnecessary frustration. One needs to read the complaint lines to realize how bad the management is

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Founded: 1934
Annual Budget: $356.7 million (FY 2013 Request)
Employees: 1,917 (FY 2013 Estimate)
Official Website: http://www.fcc.gov/
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Pai, Ajit
Chairman

Ajit Pai, who has been a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) since 2012, took over as chairman on January 23, 2017.

 

Pai was born in Buffalo, New York, on January 10, 1973, to Radha and Varadaraj Pai, both physicians. The family soon moved to Parsons, Kansas, where the elder Pais worked at the county hospital.

 

Pai attended Harvard and earned a B.A. in social studies in 1994 and went on to the University of Chicago law school, where he earned his J.D. in 1997. After graduation, Pai clerked for federal Judge Martin L.C. Feldman in the Eastern District of Louisiana.

 

In 1998, Pai went to work as a trial attorney for the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, in its telecommunications task force, where he worked on what was then the largest merger in U.S. history, between Sprint and WorldCom. Pai left federal service in 2001 to become associate general counsel for Verizon.

 

Pai returned to the government, this time the Senate, in 2003, when he served as deputy chief counsel on the Judiciary Committee on the Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Court under then-Chairman Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama). The following year, he was back in the Justice Department as senior counsel in the Office of Legal Policy. Pai returned to the Judiciary Committee in 2005 as chief counsel to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights under then-Chairman Sam Brownback (R-Kansas).

 

Pai moved to the FCC in 2007, as special adviser to the general counsel, associate general counsel and deputy general counsel. In 2011, he returned to private practice, this time with the law firm of Jenner and Block as a partner, working there until getting a seat on the FCC.

 

When Pai took over as FCC chairman, he couldn’t wait to roll back consumer protections enacted under the Obama administration. His actions, many done late on a Friday with virtually no public notice, included:

 

·       Declaring that the FCC would not defend its rule capping intrastate prison phone charges. Such charges run over $1 a minute in some cases, and under the Obama administration, rules were set to cap them at 11 cents a minute. Now prisons will be free to jack up those rates, hurting prisoners’ families who usually can ill-afford such charges.

·       Beginning to erode net-neutrality rules when he closed an investigation into zero-rating practices of some wireless providers, including his old employer, Verizon. Zero-rating allows a provider to offer free streaming of some services, forcing users to pay more when using a competitor.

·       Forbidding nine providers from joining those allowed to offer discounted internet service for the poor. The founder of one of the nine, Kajeet, told The Los Angeles Times: “I’m most concerned about the children we serve,” Daniel Neal said. “We partner with school districts—41 states and the District of Columbia—to provide educational broadband so that poor kids can do their homework.”

·       Killing an attempt to open the cable-box market so that consumers aren’t forced to pay monthly rental fees to TV providers that far outweigh the cost of the equipment. 

 

“With these strong-arm tactics, Chairman Pai is showing his true stripes,” Matt Wood, policy director at the consumer group Free Press, told The New York Times. “The public wants an FCC that helps people. Instead, it got one that does favors for the powerful corporations that its chairman used to work for.”

 

Pai is married to Janine Van Lancker, an allergist-immunologist. They have two children: Alexander and Annabelle.

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More:

FCC Stops 9 Companies From Providing Poor Federally Subsidized Internet (by Allen Cone, UPI)

Trump’s FCC Quickly Targets Net Neutrality Rules (by Cecilia Kang, New York Times)

FCC Made a Case for Limiting Cost of Prison Phone Calls. Not Anymore. (by Ann E. Marimow, Washington Post)

Nominations of Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai to the Federal Communications Commission (Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation)

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Wheeler, Tom
Previous Chair

The revolving door between big business and government is spinning again. Despite his promise during the 2008 campaign that lobbyists would take a back seat in his administration, President Barack Obama recently nominated a long-time telecommunications lobbyist—who has also donated and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his campaigns—to serve as the next chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the independent federal agency that plays the principle role in regulating the telecom industry. If confirmed by Senate as expected, Tom Wheeler would succeed Julius Genachowski, also a big Obama donor and bundler, who has been FCC Chair since 2009. 

 

Born circa 1946, Wheeler earned a B.S. at the Ohio State University in 1968. Getting into telecom during the formative years of cable TV and wireless communications, Wheeler is, as Obama observed, “the only member of both the cable television and the wireless industry hall of fame.”

 

Starting his career at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Wheeler joined the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) in 1976, and was its president (and hence chief lobbyist) from 1979 to 1984. After working as CEO of several technology start-ups, he became the CEO and president of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), from June 1992 to November 2003. Since September 2004, Wheeler has been an executive at the Washington, D.C.-based firm Core Capital Partners, which manages about $350 million in assets.

 

Wheeler became a political supporter of Barack Obama at the beginning of his 2008 presidential run, serving on his exploratory committee and National Finance Committee. In addition to personally donating up to the legal limit, Wheeler also raised money from others—called bundling—for Obama, to the tune of more than $700,000, and even temporarily relocated to Iowa to campaign for Obama. Wheeler also campaigned in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. After the election, Obama chose Wheeler to lead the transition team’s review of the science, technology, space, and arts agencies. At the time, Wheeler stated publicly that he did not want an administration job.

 

Appointed by Presidents Bill Clinton and Geroge W. Bush, Wheeler served as a trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for 12 years. He is the former chairman of the Foundation for the National Archives, and board member of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). He serves and has served on the boards of numerous corporations, especially in the telecom field.

 

Wheeler wrote Take Command: Leadership Lessons of the Civil War (Doubleday, 2000) and Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War (HarperCollins, 2006).

 

Although telecom companies and their lobbies—including both organizations formerly headed by Wheeler—issued statements praising the nominee, some in the public interest community have serious doubts as to his ability to rise above his corporate background. “The Federal Communications Commission needs a strong leader—someone who will use this powerful position to stand up to industry giants and protect the public interest,” said Free Press president Craig Aaron. “On paper, Tom Wheeler does not appear to be that person, having headed not one but two major trade associations. But he now has the opportunity to prove his critics wrong, clean up the mess left by his predecessor, be the public servant we so badly need at the FCC.”

 

Tom Wheeler is married to Carol Wheeler.

 

To Learn More:

Tom Wheeler, Former Lobbyist and Obama Fundraiser, Tapped to Lead FCC (by Sam Gustin, Time)

Telecom Investor Named to Be F.C.C. Chairman (by Edward Wyatt, New York Times)

Meet Tom Wheeler, the man who could control your digital life (by Chris Ziegler, The Verge)

Mobile Musings (Wheeler's blog)

New Entrant Ethics Forms for Tom Wheeler (U.S. Office of Government Ethics)

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