Communications have always been critical to humankind's existence and the absence of which means there would have never been the development and evolution of groups, organizations, societies and even nations. The reason being is there be no ways and means of passing messages, information, and knowledge amongst each other. Thus, humankind would have still been living in the Stone Ages without headways made in the development of communications. But communications though did not remain stagnant and confined to oral and written ones. Throughout the centuries various improvements have made communications faster and more sophisticated especially with the contributions provided by scientific and technological discoveries and innovations. Fast forward to the 19th and 20th centuries and modern communications have been enabled via radio, telephone, and television. A further boom in communications innovations came with the advent of computers and the Internet where humankind is now living in the Information Age and has the ability to pass all sorts of knowledge and information unheard of in previous decades and centuries.
Despite the developments in communications via technological innovations, communications cannot be done without the requisite oversight especially if some of the technologies are being provided by private entities. The management of communications is important in order to protect the public from the possible and/or probable abuses of those providing the various communications means such as those entities that own television and radio stations, Internet service providers and any individual or group that provides technological communications means and facilities. The control and supervision of these communications infrastructures and organization should be under the purview of the government and thus, governments all over the world have communications regulatory bodies tasked to do so. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission or FCC is the government body that "regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. It was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and operates as an independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress. (FCC 2011)" Having been established way back in the mid-1930s, the founding of the FCC was part of the New Deal of then President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help jumpstart the American Economy during the Great Depression Era.
When the FCC was initially stood up, "seven commissioners and 233 federal employees began the task of merging rules and procedures from the Federal Radio Commission, the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Postmaster General into one agency. The agency was organized into three divisions: Broadcast, Telegraph, and Telephone. (Messere 2002)" From its humble days with very few officers and personnel, the FCC has grown into a giant amongst the various government agencies and now comprises seven bureaus and eleven offices. The FCC now employs close to 2,000 personnel and its 2011 budget stood at a little over U.S.$330 million with an increase to U.S.$350 million for the next fiscal year (FCC 2011). But before delving deeper into what the FCC actually does, it is important to understand the scope of the responsibilities of the FCC in terms of real world applications. "What people may not recognize is the extent to which every area of their life is intertwined with the communications technologies the FCC has responsibility to regulate. For example, because almost all electrical and electronic equipment emits radio frequencies, FCC equipment authorization rules protect you when (FCC 2011):
Your child plays with a radio-controlled airplane,
Your teenager upstairs sends their homework assignment to the printer downstairs via your new wireless home network,
Your toll fee is automatically deducted from the little plastic box attached to your windshield without having to stop at the booth,
You swipe your credit card at the gasoline pump,
You push the button on your garage door opener
The above are just few of the responsibilities covered under the FCC and there are many more that some people may not even be aware of. Indeed, the FCC has been touching our lives without people actually knowing the importance of this regulatory body in the fabric of American society.
As an independent government body that is part of the executive branch of the United States, the FCC has a wide latitude in terms of developing policies related to communications and implementing them as well. The FCC derives its power from an act of Congress, specifically with the Communications Act of 1934, the agency "regulate various segments of the communications industries with the exemption of government radio and television stations (Messere 2002)" and other relevant communications facilities especially those belonging to intelligence services, military establishments, diplomatic units of the United States government. Specifically, the current mandate of the FCC includes the following (FCC 2011):
Promoting competition, innovation, and investment in broadband services and facilities;
Supporting the nation's economy by ensuring an appropriate competitive framework for the unfolding of the communications revolution;
Encouraging the highest and best use of spectrum domestically and internationally;
Revising media regulations so that new technologies flourish alongside diversity and localism;
Providing leadership in strengthening the defense of the nation's communications infrastructure.
Although the law creating the FCC is quite dated and is almost 70 years old, there have been amendments to the Communications Act of 1934 that ensured the mandate of the FCC has been keeping with the needs of the times. Consequently, similar to the U.S. Constitution, the Communications Act of 1934 has had to evolve to accommodate new technologies and to ensure that the new and existing technologies were serving the public interest. In order to accomplish this, elements of certain sections were altered, expanded, or abolished in order to update the usefulness of the act. (Net Industries 2011)
In Messere's Analysis of the Federal Communications Commission, the author provided a summary of some of the major legislations that have been passed to amend and/or complement the Communications Act of 1934 (2002):
The Communications Satellite Act of 1962, for example, gave the FCC new authority for satellite regulation. The passage of the Cable Act of 1992 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 required similar revisions to the 1934 Act. But the flexibility incorporated into the general provisions has allowed the agency to survive for nearly seventy years. In 1996 the passage of the Telecommunications Act provided a congressional mandate for the FCC to develop policies that would accelerate technological innovation and competition within various segments of the communication industry.
Aside from the above changes or complements to the Communications Act of 1934 that improved the mandate of the FCC to enable the agency to align its regulatory function with the needs of the times, several others laws have been promulgated and the contents of some these laws fall under the jurisdiction of the FCC. An example of which is the Children's Television Act in 1990, enacted to ensure that television organizations will provide television shows containing positive information, knowledge and skills to children watching them. The FCC acted on the legislation by formulating implementing rules and regulations that included the following (FCC 2011, Messere 2002):
Adopt several public information initiatives designed to give parents greater information about the core educational programs being aired by TV stations (these initiatives are explained in greater detail below)
Set forth a clear definition of what type of programs qualify as core programs: they generally must have serving the educational and informational needs of children as a significant purpose; be aired between the hours of 7 a.m. And 10 p.m.; be a regularly scheduled weekly program; and be at least 30 minutes in length.
Establish a guideline that calls for every full-service TV station to air at least three hours per week of core educational programming
With the major improvements in how the FCC executes the powers it has as vested by the Congress, it is clear that the FCC is one of the government bodies that have always kept with the developments in communications. It has not remained stagnant and continually aligns its mandate with whatever improvements and developments there are in communications. The result of this is that the agency has always been there to protect the rights of the public especially with regards to unscrupulous communications providers. But despite the continued improvement on the mandate of the FCC and the agency's upgrading of capabilities, there are instances that could put the FCC in a dilemma because of the nature of the matter. For instance the evolution of the computer and the Internet initially posed a major problem for the FCC as far back as the 1960s.
The FCC has struggled with the regulatory treatment of computer networks over communications networks ever since. The agency implemented not a history of technologically biased regulation, segregating one computer from another based on the technology employed. Rather, this is a market policy, segregating competitive markets from noncompetitive markets. (Cannon 2003) What happened then is that the FCC provided different regulations on the various entities comprising the delivery of computer and Internet communications technologies. The various regulations may seem…