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What Is the Federal Communications Commission?

The International Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission oversees satellite telecommunication.
The FCC regulates broadcast, cable, and satellite television.
Telephone service is regulated by the Wireline Competition Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission.
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  • Written By: S. Ashraf
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2014
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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was established by the United States Congress as an independent executive agency when it enacted the Communications Act of 1934. This act had the effect of bringing together the authority to regulate both wired and broadcasting communications under the oversight of a single agency. Broadly speaking, as an agency, the Federal Communications Commission is charged with regulating foreign and interstate communications by these instruments: television, radio, satellite, cable and wire. Organizationally, the Federal Communications Commission is headed by a board of five commissioners and is divided into seven bureaus.

Commissioners are appointed by the U.S. President for five-year terms. In order to be able to serve, they also must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Only three of the five Commissioners can belong to the same political party.

Seven bureaus, which are administratively supported by 11 Staff Offices, comprise the Federal Communications Commission. Educational and other outreach activities are handled by the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, which focuses on informing consumers about telecommunication services and products. The Media Bureau oversees the regulation and licensing of broadcast media which includes amplitude modulation (AM) and frequency modulation (FM) radio as well as satellite, cable and broadcast television. An Enforcement Bureau is charged with consumer protection, public safety and enforcement of the provisions of the Communications Act of 1934 as well as other FCC rules and orders.

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The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau sees to emergency and disaster management as well as all issues surrounding homeland and national security. Cellular as well as personal communications service (PCS) phones and pagers fall under the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau for regulatory purposes. The Wireline Competition Bureau generates the rules and other policies that apply to companies providing interstate wire-based telecommunications services through corded and cordless telephones. Finally, the International Bureau handles all matters involving satellite and other international telecommunication concerns.

Any regulations, policies or standards that the Federal Communications Commission implements apply only to the technical side of communications, such as equipment and frequency. As a federal agency, the FCC is not involved in regulating the content of communications with the exception of rules regarding slander and obscenity. Although the Federal Communications Commission has broad regulatory responsibilities, the most significant powers it has are the ones granted to the agency to license, revoke and renew broadcast licenses. It is these powers, especially the threats of license non-renewal and revocation, that enable the FCC to actually enforce the regulations and standards it sets.

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