What the average American should know about the FCC
Who cares about the FCC? Who even knows what the FCC stands for? Anyone? My friend, allow me to enlighten you: Federal Communications Commission. Sounds super exciting, right? I’m sure you’re now intensely glued to the screen and I imagine all of you demanding, Tell me more. I hear you, guys.
The FCC is a federal agency. For those who aren’t sure what federal agencies are, they’re the acting forces of laws and regulations, and management of the country’s resources for specific purposes.
What is the FCC’s specific purpose?
The Federal Communications Commission was created with the passing of the Communications Act in 1934, replacing the Federal Radio Commission. (Allgov.com) Why?
First, to broaden its reach beyond radio to include telephones and telegraphs — yes, you read that correctly. (it.ojp.gov) At the time, telegraphs were still a thing, what can we say. The broadened name also worked out so that when telegraphs ran its course, and television and internet came bursting onto the scene in the 1940’s and 1990’s, it was and is still relevant. Smart.
Second, to make sure massive companies don’t get massive-er and have unregulated power over communication channels and then take over the world. And the FCC is now responsible for enforcing regulations and policing violations such as:
- Customer privacy
- Net neutrality
- Broadcasting of indecency and obscenity
- Subsidizing internet connection to rural and poor areas (LifeLine program)
- Making communication channels available to deaf, hard of hearing, speech disabled and deaf-blind. (Accessible Communications for Everyone)
- Conducting an auction for spectrum (airwaves) between TV station providers and mobile providers
Let’s talk about the first three briefly!
Examples of what the FCC does
Anyone with a landline, mobile, and internet service is providing information automatically to service providers. Your phone and cable activity is recorded and maintained in their database as network proprietary information; it’s their property since you’re using their service. They may use this for marketing purposes (aka sign you up for more services). For example, if they know you only pay for internet, they’ll probably reach out to let you know — again and again and again — of the other great services (landline, cable, etc.) you’re missing out on! The FCC makes sure this information isn’t used for any other purposes unless the customer acknowledges and says “Aye” to being marketed to by third parties.
- If you’ve got 5 minutes, check out what happened in 2006 with the NSA (National Security Administration), another fed agency. There’s some interesting stuff about how the NSA obtained consumer data and how legal/illegal it may have been. Google “FCC and NSA 2006” and check out the first few articles.
This is a newer topic dealing with internet service providers (ISPs) and the idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally. It begs the question: Should broadcasting and media companies such as Netflix, ABC.com, etc. pay more to have their content delivered at faster speeds or should all broadcasting companies be treated the same? Imagine that your mobile provider was paid by some apps to be accessed at 4G speeds while all other apps would be accessed using a 3G connection; or the alternate scenario where some apps pay to not be counted against your monthly data allotment, but all other apps count against your data (aka zero-rating). So, net neutrality does not necessarily prevent you from viewing anything, but if it was faster or free to use something versus a potential competitor, what would you tend to use? The customer would be getting “good service”, but do we want to stifle competition like that?
- If you’ve got 5 minutes, read up on this and what’s going currently. Pretty juicy stuff, in my opinion. Google “Net neutrality explained”. I recommend Business Insider’s article — it’s simple enough to get you started. This John Oliver video about the FCC helped overload the FCC with comments!
Broadcasting of indecency and obscenity
America likes to keep it pretty PG when broadcasting to the masses; the FCC makes that happen across radio and television. How? They have a complaints page on their website for average Americans and organizations to report instances of indecency and obscenity (check it here under the TV and Radio icons). This is how they get their cases, because, it’s pretty near impossible to keep tabs on every single TV show, every single radio show, every single commercial… you get the idea.
- If you’ve got 5 minutes, check out what happened with Janet Jackson and her red lace bra on the Super Bowl halftime stage in 2004, which seems light years ago, but it was one of the most publicized happenings related to this topic, so why not? Google “FFC and Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction” Suggestion: Rolling Stone’s article gives a timeline of events following the malfunction so you’ll get an idea of how the process goes.
- If you’ve got 5 more minutes, Google “FCC and MIA’s middle finger”, or “FCC and Bono and the F word”.
Well, that’s all for the FCC today, folks. You’ve been enlightened — now go and enlighten others. Or just keep up with current events. As average Americans, we want to be aware before we need to be aware. As one average American, we may not feel like what we think and feel and want matter. But get a bunch of us average Americans feeling fierce and staunch about something and we are a force to be reckoned with. So stay informed.
[Disclaimer: If I got something wrong, which is totally possible (I know, I can’t believe it either), let me know also. I take no pride in misinformation and inaccuracy and have no qualms about making things right.]
* According to USA.gov, there are 601 agencies; according to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA — maintained by Department of Justice), there are 102 agencies; and according to other resources, the numbers differ. Interesting because: how many people are really employed by the government? How many agencies do we not know about? Alas my friend, another article, another day.
** By little, I mean billions of calls. Billions.