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CRS — The Federal Communications Commission: Current Structure and Its Role in the Changing Telecommunications Landscape

January 25, 2013

The Federal Communications Commission: Current Structure and Its Role in the Changing Telecommunications Landscape (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent federal agency with its five members appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate. 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.

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. Nine bills have been introduced during the 112th Congress that would change the operation of the FCC. For FY2013, the FCC requested a budget of $346,782,000. The FY2012 enacted appropriation was $339,844,000. FY2013 appropriations bills from the Senate and the House have not yet been passed. H.J.Res. 117, which was passed by the House on September 13, 2012, would provide a framework for a six-month Continuing Resolution that began on October 1, 2013.

The FCC’s budget is derived from regulatory fees collected by the agency rather than through a direct appropriation. The fees, often referred to as “Section (9) fees,” are collected from license holders and certain other entities (e.g., cable television systems) and deposited into an FCC account. The law gives the FCC authority to review the regulatory fees and to adjust the fees to reflect changes in its appropriation from year to year. It may also add, delete, or reclassify services under certain circumstances.

There are currently nine bills under consideration in the House and Senate that would affect the operations of the FCC: H.R. 1009, H.R. 2102, H.R. 2289, H.R. 3309, H.R. 3310, S. 611, S. 1780, S. 1784, and S. 1817. These are discussed in more detail in the body of the report.

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