Federal Communications Commission

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Federal Communications Commission
Chair:Tom Wheeler
Year created:1934
Official website:Office website
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is a United States executive agency formed in 1934 which "regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories."[1] The current chair of the commission is Tom Wheeler, who was confirmed to the post on October 29, 2013.[2] The FCC is an independent agency overseen by the United States Congress.[1]


Founded in 1934 by the Communications Act, the FCC took over radio licensing from the Federal Radio Commission. In 1940 the commission released a report that led to the breakup of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), eventually leading to the formation of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). The Report on Chain Broadcasting also placed restrictions on what the networks could demand from local affiliate stations in regard to scheduling programming. When television became a new medium in the 1940s, the FCC took on the role of licensing those stations as well. The FCC also makes rulings on matters of "indecency" in television and radio programming. In 2009, the FCC began to forward the idea of "net neutrality" rules aimed at ensuring equal treatment of all internet users. The rules then faced a series of legal challenges.[3]



According to its official website, the FCC's mission statement is as follows:

The Federal Communications Commission regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.[4]

—FCC.gov, [1]


The current chair of the FCC is Tom Wheeler.[2] The other commissioners are Mignon Clyburn, Jessica Rosenworcel, Ajit Pai and Michael O'Reilly.[5]


Obama administration

Sporting event blackout rules

On August 12, 2014, republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai called for the FCC to remove the rules that force cable and satellite television providers to black out sporting events if they're blacked out in the local market. Pai suggested the blackout rules favor the interests of team owners because games get blacked out in local markets when a certain threshold of seats were not sold. He explained, "The FCC shouldn’t get involved in handing out special favors or picking winners and losers. And in my view, there is no reason for the FCC to be involved in the sports blackout business. ... Our job is to serve the public interest, not the private interests of team owners."[6] The National Football League began increasing lobbying efforts in early August as an attempt to keep the rules in place, writing letters and setting up meetings with the FCC. Pointing out that only 2 of the 256 NFL games in 2013-2014 were blacked out, the league argued that the rules were an important aspect of their drive to sell more game tickets since they took effect in 1975. Lawyers for the NFL explained, "Although the League has taken a variety of steps to accomplish that goal, the blackout rule has been a critical contributing factor to that success."[7]

Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO labor union, came out against Pai's proposal of eliminating the blackout rules, saying the change "would have a significant negative impact — not only on union members, but also on sports fans, local communities and the public at large."[8] Thirteen members of the Congressional Black Caucus also opposed the change, claiming that some games might not be hosted on free broadcast television stations, making it more difficult for fans to watch their favorite teams. The opposing members sent a letter to the FCC in July arguing their case, "We are concerned with the FCC’s proposal to eliminate the sports blackout rule and undermine the ability of sports programming, particularly NFL games, to remain widely available on free television."[9]

Open Internet

On May 15, 2014, the FCC voted 3-2, along party lines, to pass new rules regarding net neutrality. The idea behind net neutrality is that internet service providers treat all content equally. The new rules proposed a "fast lane" be offered to larger content managers for a fee to ensure that internet providers do not purposefully slow down the data coming from the high bandwidth content managers like Google, Facebook or Netflix. FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler defended the new rules, stating, "The potential for there to be some kind of a fast lane available to only a few has many people concerned. Personally, I don't like the idea that the Internet could be divided into haves and have nots, and I will work to see that that does not happen. In this item we specifically ask whether and how to prevent the kind of paid prioritization that could result in fast lanes."[10]

Opponents of the new rule claim they will have the opposite effect of neutrality, stifling competition for new companies. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) claimed, "The very essence of net neutrality is that a better idea or service should be allowed to succeed on its merits and not have to pay tolls to reach potential customers. Rules allowing pay-to-play deals would also harm consumers, who could no longer be confident that the Internet speeds they pay for are sufficient to access the services they want."[10]

The rules were opened to public comment for a period of four months, at which point the FCC will finalize the rules.[10] The FCC announced on August 18, 2014, the public comments would remain open an additional five days, making the deadline September 25, 2014. [11]


Democratic donor waiver probe

On July 31, 2014, House Republicans began a probe into an FCC waiver given to Grain Management, a private equity firm. Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI), Greg Walden (R-OR) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) claimed the company may have received special treatment because the head of the company, David Grain, donated $5,000 to President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign as well as thousands more to other Democratic candidates. The congressmen wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler stating, "The Energy and Commerce Committee is committed to conducting vigorous oversight to ensure that Commission processes are fair, open, and transparent, and that they serve the public interest. The granting of the Grain Management waiver raises questions about these processes." They also requested any communications between Grain and the FCC prior to the waiver being issued in June 2014. An FCC spokesperson defended the waiver in a statement, claiming, "The Commission’s action, which followed a period of public notice and comment, is consistent with Congress’s directive to design auctions that encourage participation among a wide variety of companies, including small businesses,” he said in a statement. “We stand ready to act as a resource to Congress as we continue to address this important issue.[12]

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See also

External links