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A Peek Inside the FCC

Entrance to Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C. Photo: JHVEPhoto / Adobe Stock

I write a lot about the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but I imagine a lot of folks don’t realize the many functions the agency handles. Like any regulatory agency, the FCC staff and Commissioners have been tasked by Congress with a wide range of responsibilities.

The public gets to hear from the FCC formally once each month when the agency has its public meeting. These meetings are where the Commissioners vote on various issues. The monthly meetings operate much like a city council meeting, with items on a public agenda coming up for discussion or a vote.

In the November open meeting, the FCC will be voting on a wide range of issues.

  • The Commissioners will vote on a proposal that is supposed to identify and prevent digital discrimination. The FCC was required to examine this issue by November 15 in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
  • The Commission will consider rules to help victims of domestic violence by helping survivors separate service from their abusers and also protect the privacy of calls made to domestic abuse hotlines.
  • The FCC will debate opening an investigation into the threats posed by artificial intelligence in the generation of robocalls and robotexts.
  • They’ll be looking at rules to thwart cell phone fraud by scammers who take over victims’ cell phone accounts by covertly swapping SIM cards to a new device or porting phone numbers to a new carrier.
  • They will consider rules to modernize ham radio by allowing operators to use digital tools.
  • They will look at a specific case that will reduce regulation in the rural long-distance market.
  • And while not on the listed agenda, the FCC is looking at resetting the definition of broadband to 100/20 Mbps.

The public meetings are only one small piece of what the FCC routinely tackles. Here are a few of the other ongoing functions of the FCC:

  • Is in charge of spectrum policy and use. Decides exactly how each slice of spectrum can be used and who can use it. Was in charge of wireless spectrum auctions—but this is now on hold.
  • Issues licenses to users of services the agency regulates. This includes radio and TV stations. This includes spectrum licenses, such as microwave links. It includes authority for companies to engage in international long-distance.
  • Approves communications devices before they hit the U.S. market. This includes a long list of electronics like computers and peripherals, power adapters, Bluetooth devices, remote control devices, IT equipment, WiFi and other wireless equipment, cellphones and telephones, radio transmitters, garage door openers, etc.
  • Approves and regulates satellite companies that will engage in communications.
  • Oversees the Universal Service Fund through an arrangement with USAC.
  • Participates in a Joint Board with state regulators looking at universal service policies and regulations.
  • Tackles ad hoc issues, like the current push to try to control and eliminate robocalling and spam calls. Another interesting current effort involves examining how to improve communications for precision agriculture.
  • Is in charge of issuing telephone numbers.
  • Makes certain that those with disabilities have access to communications systems.
  • Oversees disputes from companies that engage in areas the agency regulates. Courts often remand lawsuits filed in the court back to the FCC.
  • Issues fines to companies that break its regulatory rules.
  • Accepts and sometimes tries to mitigate consumer complaints about regulated companies.
  • Coordinates with regulators around the world on issues of common interest, like spectrum usage and device compatibility.

By Doug Dawson, President at CCG Consulting

Dawson has worked in the telecom industry since 1978 and has both a consulting and operational background. He and CCG specialize in helping clients launch new broadband markets, develop new products, and finance new ventures.

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