legislative act remains the cornerstone of American television policy
six decades after its initial passage. Though often updated through
amendments, and itself based on the pioneering Radio Act of 1927,
the 1934 legislation which created the Federal Communications Commission
has endured remarkably well through an era of dramatic technical
and social change.
first specifically regulated broadcasting with its 1927 Radio Act
which created a Federal Radio Commission designed to regulate in
"the public interest, convenience, or necessity." But federal regulation
of communications was shared by the Department of Commerce and the
Interstate Commerce Commission. By 1934 pressure to consolidate
all telecommunication regulation for both wired and wireless services
prompted new legislation with a broader purpose.
Franklin Roosevelt's message requesting new legislation was published
in January 1934, the Senate held hearings on several days in March
while the House held a single day of hearings in April, a conference
report melding the two differing bills together appeared in early
June, and the act was passed on 19 June. Given the act's subsequent
longevity, it generated little controversy at the time it was considered.
Few proposed substantial alteration of the commercially-based broadcast
system encoded in the 1927 law. Some critics expressed concern about
educational radio's survival--and though Congress mandated the new
FCC to consider setting aside some frequencies for such stations,
this only occurred in 1941 with approval of FM service.
some 45 pages in the standard government printed version as originally
passed, the act is divided into several dozen numbered sections
of a paragraph or more which were originally divided into six parts
called titles (a seventh was added in 1984 concerning cable television).
The first title provides general provisions on the FCC, the second
is devoted to common carrier regulation, the third deals with broadcasting
(and is of primary concern here), the fourth with administrative
and procedural matters, the fifth with penal provisions and forfeitures
(fines), and the sixth with miscellaneous matters.
The act has been updated through amendment many times--chiefly with
creation of public television in 1967 (provisions on the operation
and funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting expanded
title III), and the cable act of 1984 (which created a new title
VI devoted to cable regulation, sections of which were expanded
in cable legislation of 1992).
to substantially update or totally replace the act have arisen in
Congress several times, most notably during a series of "rewrite"
bills from 1977 to 1982, and again in the mid-1990s. Such attempts
are driven partly by frustration with legislation based upon analog
radio and telephone technology still in force in a digital era of
convergence. They are driven as well by increasing rivalries among
competing industries--broadcast, cable, telephone and others. They
are also driven by political ideology that argues government should
no longer attempt to do all things for all people--and by economic
constraints that force government to operate more efficiently. The
1934 act, despite its many amendments, is increasingly seen as an
anachronism needing replacement to match today's needs.
Berry, Tyler. Communications by Wire and Radio: A Treatise On
The Law. Chicago: Callaghan, 1937.
Act Of 1934: 50th Anniversary Supplement." Federal Communications
Law Journal (Los Angeles), January 1985.
Federal Communications Commission. Annual Report. Washington,
D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1934-(issues for 1935-56 reprinted
by Arno Press, New York, 1971).
Robert W. Telecommunications, Mass Media & Democracy: The Battle
for Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
McMahon, Robert S. Regulation of Broadcasting: Half A Century
of Government Regulation of Broadcasting and the Need for Further
Legislative Action. 85th Congress. Second Session, Subcommittee
Print: Washington, D.C., 1958.
Max D. A Legislative History of the Communications Act of 1934.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Rosen, Philip T. The Modern Stentors: Radio Broadcasters and
the Federal Government, 1920-1934. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood,
of 1948; License;
Interest Convenience and Necessity; U.S.
Policy: Telecommunication Act of 1996