the Communications Act of 1934, the United States Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) is responsible for the "fair, efficient, and equitable
distribution" of television broadcast airwaves for use by the American
public. As a result, all persons or other entities (other than the
Federal government) wishing to operate a television broadcast facility
must apply for and receive a government-issued license in order
to reserve a transmission frequency for its television signal. These
broadcast licenses are subject to review and renewal by the FCC
every five years unless the FCC determines a shorter period to be
in the public interest.
In the United States, private individuals and companies are permitted
to own and operate television stations for commercial and non-commercial
use. The airwaves themselves, however, because of their limited
availability on the broadcast spectrum, are considered a finite
public resource that is "owned" and regulated by the Federal government
on behalf of the American people. During the first half of the 1920s,
when commercial broadcasting was in its infancy, pioneers in the
industry had unfettered and virtually unlimited access to what was
then an abundance of electromagnetic frequencies. By 1926, when
the number of broadcast stations increased from 536 to 732, Congress
became concerned that the rapid proliferation of broadcasters would
quickly deplete available airwaves. In addition, advances in transmission
technology enabled powerful, city-based operators to boost their
signal range, effectively drowning out smaller, rural facilities.
The chaos and cacophony of mid-1920s' broadcasting ultimately led
Congress to pass regulatory legislation in 1927, and again in 1934,
that requires all station owners to apply for a broadcast license,
and meet specific criteria for eligibility before a license is issued
the last sixty years, the essential aspects of broadcast license
grants have largely stayed the same. In the increasingly rare instance
in which a potential broadcaster seeks to establish a new station
on an available frequency, the first step is to obtain a permit
for the construction of a transmission facility. In transfer cases,
or those in which a transmission facility already exists, the process
begins with a filing of papers at the FCC, public notice of the
filing, and the initiation of a reasonable period during which other
parties in Interest may petition the FCC to deny the application.
In recent years, the FCC has become much more far-reaching in considering
and deciding license applications, the result of increasing competition
among would-be broadcasters for fewer available channels and changing
standards in what is understood by Americans to be in the "public
determining who will or will not get a broadcast license, the FCC
considers a wide range of factors which can vary or be waived under
different circumstances. A successful applicant must be an American
citizen or an entity controlled by American citizens, must be in
good financial health, and cannot own more than twelve television
stations or broadcast to more than 25% of the total national audience.
Cross-ownership regulations prevent owners of daily newspapers or
multiple broadcast facilities within a single local market from
acquiring a license to operate a television station in the same
market. In an effort to promote broadcast diversity, the FCC also
considers race and gender to be preferential factors in deciding
who will or will not be granted the privilege of owning a television
station. The FCC's diversity preferences and ownership rules, however,
have become the subject of increasing controversy in the United
States Congress, which, by the mid-1990s, had made broadcast deregulation
a top priority on its legislative agenda.
John R. Law and Regulation of Electronic Media. Englewood
Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1994.
John. "FCC Proposes Lottery for Issuing Licenses: Public Interest
Group, Broadcasters Criticize Plan for TV and Radio." The Washington
Post (Washington, D.C.), January 31, 1991.
Kenneth A. Broadcasting in America and the FCC's License Renewal
Process: An Oklahoma Case Study. Washington, Federal Communications
Megahertz and a Mule: Ensuring Minority Ownership of the Electromagnetic
Spectrum." Harvard Law Review (Boston, Massachusetts), March
Douglas H., Michael H. Botein, and Mark K. Director. Regulation
of the Electronic Mass Media: Law and Policy for Radio, Television,
Cable, and the New Technologies. St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publications,
1979, 2nd 1991.
John. "Preferences Get Static in Broadcasting (Making It
Easier for Women, Minorities to Get Into Broadcasting." Los Angeles
Times (Los Angeles, California), 22 February 1992.
Dennis. "Controversial 'Diversity' Policy Upheld in Suprise Supreme
Court Decision." Variety (Los Angeles, California), 4 July
"When Citizens Complain: UCC v. FCC A Decade Later". Proceedings
of the Mass Communication Law Section, Association of American Law
Schools, December 27, 1977. New York: Association of American
Law Schools and the Communications Media Center, New York Law School,
Communications Commission; "Freeze"