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Communications law: an overview
Communications law is concerned with the regulation of radio and TV broadcasting to insure satisfactory service and to prevent chaos. Because broadcasting by its nature transcends state boundaries, the Federal government has largely occupied the field.

Congress created and delegated its authority in communications to the (SEE BELOW) Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC has the power (under 47 U.S.C. § 303), among other things, to set forth standards for transmitting color television. Under the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC was given power to regulate and control "radio communications." Such communications were held to include the transmission by radio of writing, signs, signals, pictures, and sounds of all kinds.

What role is left for the states after such heavy federal regulation? States cannot regulate the content of the programs broadcast (even if the television station is situated within the state) and cannot require that motion pictures broadcast over the station be submitted to a state board of censors for their approval.


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent United States government agency, directly responsible to Congress. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC's jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions.


The FCC is directed by five Commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for 5-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term. The President designates one of the Commissioners to serve as Chairperson. Only three Commissioners may be members of the same political party. None of them can have a financial interest in any Commission-related business.

As the chief executive officer of the Commission, the Chairman delegates management and administrative responsibility to the Managing Director. The Commissioners supervise all FCC activities, delegating responsibilities to staff units and Bureaus.

Bureaus and Offices

The Commission staff is organized by function. There are six operating Bureaus and ten Staff Offices. The Bureaus’ responsibilities include: processing applications for licenses and other filings; analyzing complaints; conducting investigations; developing and implementing regulatory programs; and taking part in hearings. Our Offices provide support services. Even though the Bureaus and Offices have their individual functions, they regularly join forces and share expertise in addressing Commission issues.

Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau - educates and informs consumers about telecommunications goods and services and engages their input to help guide the work of the Commission. CGB coordinates telecommunications policy efforts with industry and with other governmental agencies — federal, tribal, state and local — in serving the public interest.

Enforcement Bureau - enforces the Communications Act, as well as the Commission’s rules, orders and authorizations.

International Bureau - represents the Commission in satellite and international matters.

Media Bureau - regulates AM, FM radio and television broadcast stations, as well as Multipoint Distribution (i.e., cable and satellite) and Instructional Television Fixed Services.

Wireless Telecommunications - oversees cellular and PCS phones, pagers and two-way radios. This Bureau also regulates the use of radio spectrum to fulfill the communications needs of businesses, local and state governments, public safety service providers, aircraft and ship operators, and individuals.

Wireline Competition Bureau - responsible for rules and policies concerning telephone companies that provide interstate, and under certain circumstances intrastate, telecommunications services to the public through the use of wire-based transmission facilities (i.e., corded/cordless telephones).

Office of Administrative Law Judges - presides over hearings, and issues Initial Decisions.

Office of Communications Business Opportunities - provides advice to the Commission on issues and policies concerning opportunities for ownership and contracting by small, minority and women-owned communications businesses.

Office of Engineering And Technology - allocates spectrum for non-Government use and provides expert advice on technical issues before the Commission.

Office of The General Counsel - serves as chief legal advisor to the Commission's various Bureaus and Offices.

Office of Inspector General - conducts and supervises audits and investigations relating to the operations of the Commission.

Office of Legislative Affairs - is the Commission’s main point of contact with Congress.

Office of The Managing Director - functions as a chief operating official, serving under the direction and supervision of the Chairman.

Office of Media Relations - informs the news media of FCC decisions and serves as the Commission‘s main point of contact with the media.

Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis - works with the Chairman, Commissioners, Bureaus and Offices to develop strategic plans identifying policy objectives for the agency.

Office of Work Place Diversity - advises the Commission on all issues related to workforce diversity, affirmative recruitment and equal employment opportunity.

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