The term Federal Communications Commission (FCC) refers to an independent U.S. government agency that oversees all interstate and international communications. The FCC maintains standards and consistency among types of media and methods of communication while protecting the interests of consumers and businesses. It allocates cellular and wireless access, regulates media company mergers and acquisitions (M&A), protects intellectual property rights, and regulates standards of content and distribution for all media companies operating in the United States.
The agency is accountable to U.S. Congress and its actions are monitored closely by investors.
The agency is directed by five commissioners who are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The president also selects one of the commissioners to serve as chairman. Only three commissioners can be of the same political party at any given time and none can have a financial interest in any commission-related business. All commissioners, including the chairman, have five-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term.
The commission is organized into bureaus and offices, based on function (see also Organizational Charts of the FCC). Bureau and office staff members regularly share expertise to cooperatively fulfill responsibilities such as:
The FCC's rules and regulations are in Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which are published and maintained by the Government Printing Office. Title 47 Rules & Regulations are also available on the web in a searchable format.
Most FCC rules are adopted by a process known as "notice and comment" rulemaking. Under that process, the FCC gives the public notice that it is considering adopting or modifying rules on a particular subject and seeks the public's comment. The Commission considers the comments received in developing final rules. For more information, check out our online summary of the Rulemaking Process at the FCC.
In 1972 Congress passed the Federal Advisory Committee Act to ensure that advice by advisory committees is objective and accessible to the public. The Act put in place a process for establishing, operating, overseeing, and terminating these committees that provide valuable input from consumer groups, industry stakeholders, public safety officials and other interested parties.
The agency's regulatory powers include the setting of manufacturing standards for communications equipment, decency standards in radio and television broadcasts, and ensuring competition. The commission includes an Office of Administrative Law Judges that hear disputes and issues decisions interpreting the agency's regulations.
Tasked with enforcement of the Communications Act and FCC regulations, the commission's enforcement bureau conducts investigations, levies fines, and initiates administrative judgments against violators. FCC fines can tally as high as the tens of millions of dollars for some violations, which can affect the value of some companies.
The FCC's rulemaking and regulation process is established through what's called the "notice and comment" process. The agency provides the general public with notice, allowing people to submit comments before any rules are established, amended, or developed.5 These procedures may have wide-ranging effects on the competitive balance in the communication market.
M&A activity of communications companies requires FCC approval. While this approval process is designed to protect consumers and prevent monopolies, it occasionally creates uncertainty for companies and investors while FCC approval is under review. Some don't actually receive approval, which can result in uncertainty for these companies.
The FCC has long wielded significant regulatory powers with radio, television, and telephone providers. In 2015, the commission extended its reach to include broadband internet service providers (ISPs) by classifying the companies as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.
The commission's decision to list broadband providers as common carriers occurred via a 3-2 vote that was along party lines. This vote highlights the potential effect the political affiliation of appointed commissioners can have on the regulatory interpretation of the commission.
The FCC was created in 1934 as part of the Communications Act of 1934.
Net neutrality is a policy that was adopted by the Obama administration in 2015 that would prevent corporations, including internet service providers, from blocking content and slowing down access to the internet. As such, these companies were required to provide equal access to online content. These policies, though, were eliminated in 2017 under the Trump administration.
The FCC is an independent U.S. government agency that answers to the United States Congress.
The Federal Communications Commission was established in 1934 as part of the Communications Act. It aims to serve the interests of corporations and consumers by regulating the actions of communications networks, including the access they provide, competition and innovation in the industry, and maintaining consistency throughout the media landscape and methods of communication. Although it is an independent agency, it answers to the government. Its decisions also influence the stock market, which is why investors choose to monitor its actions.