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The Federal Communications Commission: Current Structure and its Role in the Changing Telecommunications Landscape

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Abstract:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent Federal agency directly responsible to Congress. It was established by the Communications Act of 1934 (1934 Act) and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The mission of the FCC is to ensure that the American people have available -- at reasonable cost and without discrimination -- rapid, efficient, nation- and world-wide communication services; whether by radio, television, wire, satellite, or cable.

The FCC is funded through the Science, State, Justice, Commerce (House) and Commerce, Justice, Science (Senate) appropriations process as a single line item. H.R. 2862 was signed by President Bush on November 22, 2005 (P.L. 109-108). It includes $289,771,000 for the salaries and expenses of the FCC. Of the amounts provided, $288,771,000 is to be derived from offsetting fee collections, resulting in a net direct appropriation of $1,000,000.

Although the FCC has restructured over the past few years to better reflect the industry, it is still required to adhere to the statutory requirements of its governing legislation, the Communications Act of 1934. The 1934 Act requires the FCC to regulate the various industry sectors differently. Some policymakers have been critical of the FCC and the manner in which it regulates various sectors of the telecommunications industry -- telephone, cable television, radio and television broadcasting, and some aspects of the Internet. These policymakers, including some in Congress, have long called for varying degrees and types of reform to the FCC. Most proposals fall into two categories: (1) procedural changes made within the FCC or through Congressional action that would affect the agency's operations or (2) substantive policy changes requiring Congressional action that would affect how the agency regulates different services and industry sectors.

One bill has been introduced in the 109th Congress that would directly affect the structure of the FCC. H.R. 2982, the FCC Reorganization Act, was introduced by Representative Albert Wynn to require the FCC to reorganize its bureaus to better carry out its regulatory functions. The bill was referred to the Committee on Energey & Commerce on June 17, 2005, and the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on July 1, 2005.

This report will be updated as needed.