Communications Act of 1934
Communications Act of 1934
Robert W. Van Sickel
Excerpt from the Communications Act of 1934
For the purpose of regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio so as to make available ... without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, a rapid, efficient ... wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges, for the purpose of the national defense, for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property ... and for the purpose of securing a more effective execution of this policy by centralizing authority heretofore granted ... to several agencies and by granting additional authority with respect to interstate and foreign commerce in wire and radio communication, there is created a commission to be known as the Federal Communications Commission.
Passed in the midst of the Great Depression, the Communications Act of 1934 (48 stat. 1064), which created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), reflected a continuing effort by Congress to both encourage and regulate electronic communication in the United States. The act's major intent was to consolidate all federal regulation of such communication within a single independent agency. Although substantially amended several times since its adoption, the Communications Act continues to provide the basic institutional structure for the federal government's regulation of all forms of electronic mass communication, including radio, television, the telephone system, and perhaps eventually, aspects of the Internet. Although the public may have little knowledge of the FCC, the Commission has played a major role in determining what Americans see and hear on the airwaves. That this act has survived for seven decades during a period of intense technological and social change is itself something of an achievement.
THE STRUCTURE AND AUTHORITY OF THE FCC
The FCC is an independent regulatory agency. In general terms, the FCC is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The FCC's jurisdiction covers the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and all U.S. possessions. It is headed by five commissioners appointed by the president, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to staggered five-year terms. No more than two commissioners (excluding the chairperson) may represent a single political party. In practice, this has meant that the Commission consists of two Democrats, two Republicans, and a chairperson representing the current president's party. Designated by the president, the FCC chairperson exercises significant control over the Commission's policy agenda, internal operations, and relations with Congress.
Although the FCC is most visible through its licensing and oversight of commercial television and radio, it is also charged with regulating interstate common carrier systems, industrial and trucking radio systems, taxi cab communication networks, doctor-hospital and marine-ship systems, aviation communication, police and fire networks, as well as more recently developed technologies such as cable television and satellite communications, including cellular telephone systems. Although the FCC is an independent agency, it should be noted that no federal agency is truly independent of politics. Accordingly, the FCC must contend with presidential and congressional review both in the budget process and in regard to amendments to its enabling legislation. Additionally, nearly all of the FCC's activities are subject to judicial review. And finally, the Commission, although exercising formidable regulatory powers under the commerce clause, must navigate the waters of state and local governments throughout the country.
The Commission supervises a staff of approximately 2,500 people, and has an annual budget of roughly $250 million. FCC personnel are organized into various bureaus and offices, although the majority of them work in Washington, D.C. Perhaps the most important of these bodies is the Mass Media Bureau, which handles such highly recognizable FCC functions as the granting and renewal of broadcast licenses, and the adoption and enforcement of technical and operational standards for broadcasters. The FCC has long been organized in terms of the various forms of communication media, such as commercial radio, commercial and public television, cable systems, common carriers, private radio systems, and so on. However, recent years have witnessed the phenomenon known as convergence, in which the former distinctions made among various media, and the utility of organizing government regulation along such lines, have been called into question.
In terms of constitutional provisions, the Communications Act, which is designed to be consistent with the First Amendment's freedom of speech and press provisions, rests on the commerce clause of Article I, section 8. The act is a direct descendent of the Radio Acts of 1912 and 1927. The Communications Act consolidates responsibility for several problems that Congress had dealt with in the two decades prior to 1934.
REGULATING ELECTRONIC MEDIA
But while all mass communications share certain similarities, the electronic media exist in a legal environment far different from that enjoyed by the traditional print media. Some of the legal principles governing print and electronic media are identical, such as the legal meaning of libel, invasion of privacy, copyright, and various access restrictions. However, the legal differences outweigh the similarities. To begin with, the electronic media require government licensing, whereas anyone who has the resources and desire may start a newspaper or magazine. There have been a number of justifications for treating electronic communications differently, many based on such concepts as public rights of way, pervasiveness, intrusiveness, and scarcity. Although these justifications are widely accepted, their validity is not self-evident.
Public rights of way are geographic spaces such as roads, telephone and power lines, tree rows, and alleys, which are considered to be public property designated for the provision of public services. Similarly, the airwaves are seen as belonging to the public, and thus should be regulated in the public interest. Pervasiveness and intrusiveness are related ideas under which it is thought that the electronic media are both ubiquitous and unavoidable, and thus different from the print press, which one presumably could ignore if one wished. The notion of scarcity, however, may be the most common justification for government control of the electromagnetic spectrum, and it served as a major impetus for passage of the Communications Act.
Scarcity refers to the ostensibly limited number of frequencies on the spectrum, a fact that, in a democracy, requires fair access and a diverse range of viewpoints. This concept was problematic from the beginning, and has arguably become even more outmoded since 1934. First, although the FCC grants licenses to utilize particular frequencies, the federal government maintains ownership and control of about fifty percent of the available frequencies, based on national security and public safety concerns. Perhaps more damaging to the idea of scarcity has been the continuous growth of electronic access through the development of cable television, satellite technology, and the Internet. While the original concern of Congress was to distribute what it saw as a very limited number of frequencies in the face of unlimited opportunities for private parties to develop newspapers, today the number of newspapers in the United States has dwindled to a fraction of the number of television and radio stations.
COMMUNICATIONS ISSUES IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY
It cannot be overemphasized that the Communications Act was the culmination of a long series of attempts by Congress to respond, often belatedly and ineffectively, to rapid changes in communications technology. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, it became clear that traditional notions of a free press might prove inadequate as legal frameworks for emerging technologies. Indeed, as early as the 1850s Congress debated a proposal to commit public funds to the creation of a transcontinental subterranean telegraph system. The Communications Act grew out of a time when Congress was concerned with radio technology primarily as a means of achieving public safety through increased military and maritime coordination, rather than as a format for commercial news and entertainment. Indeed, the Radio Act of 1912 was a direct congressional response to the sinking of the Titanic that year, a disaster that was widely believed to be related to the lack of a coherent distribution of radio frequencies along the eastern seaboard, preventing the ship's distress signals from being effectively relayed to maritime safety officials. Thus, through the first Radio Act, Congress seized control of the electromagnetic spectrum for the first time.
At the same time, American business had begun to see the commercial potential of radio. By the mid-1920s there were hundreds of essentially unregulated (although federally licensed) stations broadcasting throughout the country. The federal government's first substantive effort to regulate broadcasting, however, came with the 1927 Radio Act, which created a Federal Radio Commission designed to regulate that medium in "the public interest, convenience, and necessity." Still, the Department of Commerce, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the Department of Defense controlled federal regulation of communication. Within a few years, pressure to consolidate all telecommunications regulation for both wired and wireless services prompted new legislation with a wider mandate.
THE ERA OF THE COMMUNICATIONS ACT
In early 1934, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's congressional allies introduced the bill that would become the Communications Act. Perhaps surprisingly, given the scope of the regulation involved, there was little legislative debate on the bill. Indeed, hearings in the Senate lasted barely a week, while the House of Representatives heard testimony for only a single day. Some observers did voice concerns that the legislation would allow the new FCC to undermine educational and public safety broadcasting, but the final version of the bill, which FDR signed in June 1934, left the balance of commercial and educational broadcasting to be struck by the new Commission.
Although the Communications Act has been the subject of regular litigation and judicial review, the United States Supreme Court has exercised its power to review FCC activities in a surprisingly limited number of cases. The Court has rarely struck down FCC rules. Congress, however, has amended the Communications Act many times, largely in response to changes in technology, and in rare instances by making attempts to strengthen the public interest aspects of the act. Important technological developments have included television, satellite and microwave communications, cable television, cellular telephones, digital broadcasting, and personal communications systems. These new technologies gave rise to amendments and related legislation such as the Communications Satellite Act of 1962, the Cable Act of 1992, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Public interest concerns led to the establishment of FM radio in 1941, to the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS) in 1967 and National Public Radio (NPR) in 1972, and to the passage of the Children's Television Act in 1990.
Occasionally, calls for major alterations to the act, or even for the abolition of the FCC, have arisen. Two very different political perspectives drive these suggestions. The first of these perspectives holds that the federal government has already over-regulated the electronic media, and has thus under-mined both the normal workings of the marketplace and the FCC's ability to respond quickly and effectively to complex technological and business developments. Because of the problems (or opportunities) of convergence, it is believed that rivalries among the broadcast, cable, telephone, Internet, and newspaper industries can only be worked out through free market competition. On the other hand, there are those who believe that the FCC has failed to protect the public interest and the democratic values of fair access and diversity of viewpoints among the media. Advocates of this perspective point to recent FCC rules that have allowed a small group of large corporations to gain control of mass media content both in particular markets and throughout the nation. To some degree, advocates of both perspectives view the 1934 act, despite its many changes, as an anachronism developed in an age before the development of modern communications systems.
IMPACT AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE FCC
It is difficult to summarize the societal impact of the Communications Act, just as it is hard to discuss briefly the broader social changes in American life since 1934. Whether the FCC has effectively pursued its responsibility to protect the public's "interest, convenience, and necessity" is a debated question. Perhaps inevitably, the FCC has adopted an essentially corporate model of regulation. The Commission, albeit with notable exceptions, has moved steadily toward a market-based interpretation of its mission. In recent years, the FCC has abandoned its fairness doctrine, which required broadcasters to present opposing viewpoints on public issues. It has weakened ownership limitations, allowing corporate media conglomerates essentially to monopolize particular markets through the acquisition of television, radio, newspaper, and cable providers. Finally, the Commission no longer seriously reviews renewal applications for broadcasting licenses, thus making such privileges virtually permanent, while following a highly amorphous requirement that broadcasters present at least some (self-defined) public interest programming.
On the other hand, one could conclude that, given the rapid technological change of the past seventy years, the FCC has benefited both consumers and producers by enthusiastically adapting its rules to emerging industries. One thing is certain: The electronic media now truly pervade the lives of all Americans, providing virtually all entertainment and public information for a majority of citizens. Thus, the FCC and the Communications Act will continue to be of central importance in the lives of Americans.
See also: Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.
Benjamin, Louise. Freedom of the Air and the Public Interest: First Amendment in Broadcasting to 1935. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2001.
Carter, T. Barton, et al. Mass Communications Law in a Nutshell, 5th ed. St. Paul, MN: West Group, 2000.
"Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 151 )." Federal Communications Commission Homepage. <http://www.fcc.gov/Reports/1934new.pdf>.
Gillmor, Donald M., et al. Fundamentals of Mass Communication Law. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1996.
Goldberg, Godles, Wiener, and Wright. "Communications Law and Regulation." Find-law Professionals. <http://profs.lp.findlaw.com/communicate/index.html>.
Messere, Fritz. "Analysis of the Federal Communications Commission."Encyclopedia of Television. <http://www.oswego.edu/~messere/FCC1.html>.
Ray, William B. FCC: The Ups and Downs of Radio–TV Regulation. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1990.
Zelezny, John D. Communication Law: Liberties, Restraints, and the Modern Media. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1993.
"Communications Act of 1934." Major Acts of Congress. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/communications-act-1934
"Communications Act of 1934." Major Acts of Congress. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/communications-act-1934
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Communications Act of 1934
COMMUNICATIONS ACT OF 1934
The Communications Act of 1934 is the major, comprehensive legislation for the regulation of all nongovernmental wire and wireless telecommunication. It outlines specific laws that telecommunications operators must follow. It created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and enabled the commissioners to initiate further regulations that carry out the intent of the act. Most important, the act justifies the regulation of telecommunications, which is paradoxical, given the rights that are guaranteed to the press by the First Amendment.
Evolution of the Act
The Communications Act of 1934 grew out of the Radio Act of 1927, which was the first official attempt by the U.S. government at a comprehensive legislation for radio. The Radio Act of 1927 was passed by the U.S. Congress to help the U.S. Department of Commerce solve interference problems connected with the burgeoning number of new operating stations. Although this act gave First Amendment protection to broadcasting, it defined broadcasting as interstate commerce, a status that, according to the Constitution, gave Congress the power to control it. In addition, this act created the Federal Radio Commission (FRC), the precursor to the FCC, to govern licensing, frequency assignments, and station operations.
This 1927 act, though more comprehensive than its predecessors, still did not provide enough direction and justification for the regulation of the new media. In fact, it was not long after its inception that many of its powers, especially those involving the denial of a license, were challenged in court. Other court cases questioned the underpinnings of the 1927 act, including (1) whether the public-interest standard could be used to deny licenses on the basis of programming content and (2) whether broadcasting could even be considered interstate commerce. Finally, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a letter to Congress asking for new legislation that would better harness the evolving industry of telecommunications, and Congress answered with the Communications Act of 1934.
Design of the Act
The Communications Act of 1934 acknowledges the First Amendment status of broadcasting, yet it also provides a rationale for regulation despite this status. This rationale is built on the premise that telecommunication operators must act "in the public interest, convenience, and necessity." The reason for this is twofold. First, the airwaves are considered to be a publicly owned natural resource. Therefore, as with any scarce resource, the government is entitled to ensure that this public property is used as a public service. The second part of this rationale argues that, because the airwaves are publicly owned, the operators of electronic media act not as owners but as trustees of the frequencies they use, thereby functioning as the public's proxy when managing this public resource. This rationale serves to justify the provisions of the act itself, but it also justifies electronic media regulation by the FCC beyond basic technological regulation.
The first paragraph of the act establishes the FCC as the independent regulatory agency that is charged with carrying out the intent of Congress and the act. Through this establishment, the act becomes the enabling legislation for the FCC, dictating the organization, enforcement measures, and procedural methods that the FCC must follow. Other sections of the act provide principles and initiatives that require specific regulatory action from the FCC in order to be implemented. For example, sections 303(o) and 303(p) of the act allow the FCC to assign call letters to stations and require that the stations publish "such call letters and other such announcements and data as in the judgment of the Commission… for the efficient operation…" of these stations. The latter part of this allowance entitled the FCC to create rule 73.1201, which requires stations to identify themselves during sign-on, sign-off, and natural breaks at every hour. This identification must include their call letters, the location in which they are licensed, and, for radio stations, their frequency. In this manner, the act empowers the FCC to create and execute rules, policies, and regulations based on the directives of the act.
Conjointly, the act also contains explicit regulations that the FCC must enforce. A prime example of this is found in the political communication provisions of section 315. Section 315, among other requirements, prohibits broadcast and cable operators from censoring the content of any political message. This means that broadcasters and cable operators cannot censor political advertisements, nor can the FCC ban a political spot based on questionable content. It is important to note, however, that although section 315 prohibits the banning of a political spot on the basis of content, even political messages are subject to the indecency and obscenity laws of the U.S. Criminal Code (section 1464) and to the First Amendment tests for "clear and present danger" (as set forth in Schenck v. United States, 1919; United States v. O'Brien, 1968; and Preferred Communications v. City of Los Angeles, 1989). Nevertheless, this statute exemplifies one of the many explicit regulations of the act that must be enforced by the FCC.
Organization of the Act
The Communications Act of 1934 contains seven titles, or sections, each of which addresses a specific area of telecommunication. The first paragraph of Title I lays out the purpose of the act by first identifying wire and wireless communication as interstate and foreign commerce and then introducing the FCC as its regulatory enforcer. This first section also introduces the phrase "in the public interest, convenience, and necessity," the criterion for the discretionary regulatory authority that the government may hold over communications.
Title I also outlines the terms, organization, duties, and general powers of the FCC. It dictates the procedure for the appointment the five commissioners as well as the terms, qualifications, and restrictions that are required of the commissioner positions. It also outlines the various powers that Congress and the president of the United States have over the FCC, including the appropriation of operating funds for the agency. Application fees for the various communication services are listed, and related powers of the FCC are explained.
Title II addresses common carriers, such as telephone services. The first portion of the title requires common carriers to maintain reasonable charges for their services as well as justify these charges in a public inspection file. Other areas of regulation include the extension of lines, acquisition of equipment, and expansion of facilities or of the service area. Restrictions on the use of telephone equipment for various criminal or other infringing actions and requirements for disability access and blocking of offensive material are detailed. Finally, requirements, limitations, and other provisions are placed on existing or developing services.
Title III covers radio and television licensing and regulation, noncommercial and educational broadcasting, and maritime radio use. This is where the licensing procedures, conditions, and regulatory powers concerning all broadcast stations are written. It is also where the public-interest standard is formally addressed in a very tangible regulatory capacity. Enforcement powers and sanctions of the FCC are presented. Likewise, enforceable requirements of broadcasters are identified. Examples of the Title III broadcasting requirements include section 315, which demands that legally qualified candidates running for the same office receive an equal opportunity to use a given station, and section 335, which requires a direct broadcasting satellite (DBS) to carry educational and informational programming. Other sections in Title III cover assistance and provisions for public broadcasting, emergency or distress situations, and ship-to-shore communications.
Title IV lists procedural and administrative provisions that the FCC must follow. It begins with the establishment of the jurisdiction of the FCC to enforce the act and the possibility of court action against any violators of any order set forth by the commission. It then defines and explains the different procedures and types of evidence that may be used in conjunction with an FCC order or court action. These orders and enforcement issues are then expounded upon in the next title.
Title V addresses specific consequences, or penalties, that correspond with certain violations of the act or other FCC regulations, rules, or policies. Fines can be charged as a result of fraudulent contests or game shows, illegal acceptance of rebates or other money in exchange for transmission, and maritime safety violations. Penalties also include the confiscation of illegal or unauthorized telecommunications devices, which can then be sold by the confiscators as long as there is no potential for harming the public.
Title VI describes national policy for cable communication. Among its various provisions, it redefines the relationship between cable operator and franchising authority. In order to operate in a given community, a cable operator must obtain a franchise, which allows the operator to construct a cable system using public roads, or "right-of-way." The franchising authority is the community government or other government entity that grants a franchise to a cable operator, an action that is accompanied by a franchising agreement or contract with which the cable operator must comply.
In its definition of the cable-franchise relationship, the act gives the franchising authority the right to require a cable operator to designate a channel for educational, governmental, or other public use. In addition, the act requires cable operators to carry local television stations or low-power television stations in certain situations. Regarding the actual process of franchising, Title VI establishes franchising procedures, standards, and fee limitations that cable operators and franchising authorities must acknowledge and follow. Furthermore, the act governs franchise renewal procedures and provides for the protection of cable operators against wrongful denial of renewal. Other provisions of this title address the need for increased competition and public-interest obligations for the cable industry, and the establishment of common guidelines for federal, state, and local government in the regulation of cable.
The last title, Title VII, contains miscellaneous provisions that do not fall within the scope of the previous titles. Part of this title deals with the unauthorized publication and reception of communication. Another section outlines the powers of the president in times of war or national emergency. Services for the disabled, such as closed captioning and hearing-aid compatibility, are also addressed. Finally, the act ends with the establishment of a fund that will be used to promote competition, new technology development, employment and training, and the delivery of telecommunication services to all parts of the United States.
Major Amendments to the Act
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. Also, from time to time, laws have been passed that added entire sections to the act. These sections were specific to particular areas of telecommunication, and they gave the FCC additional power and responsibilities.
One such modification to the Communications Act of 1934 is the Communications Satellite Act of 1962, which was enacted to regulate the long-term commercial use of satellites. This act created the Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT) to oversee this commercial use. That same year, the All Channel Receiver Act was passed to require all television receivers to receive both VHF and the new UHF signals, and the Educational Television Facilities Act was enacted to provide money for the construction of educational stations.
The Educational Television Facilities Act of 1962 paved the way for the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which provided the first direct appropriation for noncommercial programming. More notably, it established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has become the major founder of educational broadcasting facilities.
The next major legislation was the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984. This act outlined the relationship between cable operator and local franchising authority as well as relaxed the franchise regulation of cable rates. However, the act was created during a time of deregulation, and it soon became apparent that the cable industry would need more conservative regulation. Thus, the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 re-regulated cable by reevaluating the powers of the franchising authority over the cable operator, prohibiting exclusive program arrangements between cable operator and program supplier, and otherwise promoting competition.
Another piece of legislation passed in the same decade was the Children's Television Act of 1990. This act placed limitations on the amount of advertising as well as the use of advertising and other commercial acts during children's programming. It also detailed specific requirements for children's programming and made other suggestions on how communications operators could better serve the public interest.
Finally, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was enacted as the largest-ever addition to the Communications Act of 1934. It gave the FCC new initiatives and challenges in the face of digital broadcasting and other dawning technologies, and it outlined further public-interest responsibilities that communicators in the new digital era would be obliged to adopt. In sum, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 amended and added provisions to the 1934 act in an effort to promote electronic media competition, provide universal service, and ensure that all future electronic media will serve "the public interest, convenience, and necessity."
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Act
The Communications Act of 1934 has been both praised and condemned for its various provisions and effects. One of its most notable strengths is its breadth in creating a single independent regulatory agency that has the power to regulate all electronic media. Likewise, the act can be admired for its design in that it includes the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government in the execution and evaluation of its various provisions, similar to the laws establishing other regulatory agencies. A third strength is its interpretive quality in that it dictates initiatives that the FCC can interpret and then execute according to contemporary needs. This interpretive quality, however, has also been regarded as a weakness when certain provisions have needed further clarification in order to be effectively adopted.
Another criticism concerns the appointment method for filling commissioner positions, which leaves this process subject to political considerations that can take precedence over an appointee's qualifications. A related concern is the potential for Congress to refrain from approving the appointment of any or all commissioners or to delay appropriating an operating budget in an attempt to influence the functioning of the FCC.
However flawed the Communications Act of 1934 may be, its survival serves as a testament to its fundamental effectiveness. The act still stands as the first, and only, comprehensive regulatory legislation for all electronic media. It successfully solved the regulatory problems that were experienced by its predecessors, and it will continue to evolve with the evolving media, solving new problems as they arise.
See also:Broadcasting, Government Regulation of; Cable Television, Regulation of; Children and Advertising; First Amendment and the Media; Public Broadcasting; Radio Broadcasting; Telecommunications Act of 1996; Television, Educational; Television Broadcasting; Satellites, History of.
Barnouw, Erik. (1970). The Image Empire: A History of Broadcasting in the United States from 1953. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kahn, Frank J., ed. (1978). Documents of American Broadcasting, 3rd edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Smith, F. Leslie; Meeske, Milan; and Wright, John W., II.(1995). Electronic Media and Government: The Regulation of Wireless and Wired Mass Communication in the United States. White Plains, NY: Longman.
Francesca Dillman Carpentier
"Communications Act of 1934." Encyclopedia of Communication and Information. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/media/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/communications-act-1934
"Communications Act of 1934." Encyclopedia of Communication and Information. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/media/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/communications-act-1934
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Communications Act of 1934
COMMUNICATIONS ACT OF 1934
The congressional architects of federal policy regulating communications were determined to not make the mistakes Congress had made in the development of the railroads. In that case Congress had invited corruption by distributing lands to the owners of the railroads, and aided in what became a continuing problematic relationship between private ownership of railroads and the industry's public service function.
The Communications Act of 1927 was an announcement by progressives that the federal government would own and administer the airwaves. The 1927 legislation established an experimental commission to oversee communications; the Communications Act of 1934 made that body, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), permanent. The Communications Act of 1927 was built upon the belief that the new technology of radio would serve the public by facilitating national education and the dissemination of valuable information collected by the federal government, such as weather reports to aid agriculture. The act also addressed the potential use of radio in transportation, and anticipated that seagoing vessels, for example, would come to rely on radio communication in that same way the railroads had relied on the telegraph.
The Communications Act of 1934—a forty-page document that was compiled after a single day of hearings—reaffirmed the FCC's authority and the federal government's control, but it also addressed the relationship between local radio stations and new national networks, a relationship that would produce confusion and political conflict for years to come. Later additions to the 1934 act extended the government's responsibility for public education and the dissemination of news, and provided for licensing with controls and limits that were politically useful. These and later amendments to the Communications Act of 1934 have continued to wrestle with the evolving relationship between the communications industry and the federal government. Try as they might, the progressives who had shaped the Communications Act of 1927 reached the same point their predecessors had reached in their effort to require national control over the railroads. By providing for local ownership of radio stations, the authors of the Communications Act of 1934 continued the debate between local independence and national control that had tormented the railroads.
McChesney, Robert W. Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928–1935. 1993.
Paglin, Max D. A Legislative History of the CommunicationsAct of 1934. 1989.
Rosen, Philip T. Modern Stentors: Radio Broadcasters and the Federal Government, 1920–1934. 1980.
Barry Dean Karl
"Communications Act of 1934." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/communications-act-1934
"Communications Act of 1934." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/communications-act-1934