The Federal Communications Act 1934

The Federal Communications Act 1934
The Federal Communications Act 1934

The Federal Communications Act 1934

Background
The 1934 Communications Act consolidated and organized federal regulation of telephone, telegraph, and radio communications. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was established by the Act to monitor and regulate these industries. The Act is revised on a regular basis to include regulations that control emerging communications technologies like broadcast, cable, and satellite television.

General Provisions
The Communications Act of 1934, as modified, is a broad statute that governs telephone, telegraph, television, and radio communications in the United States. Its seven subchapters control practically every aspect of the communications and broadcasting industries, including frequency assignment, rates and fees, standards, competition, subscriber access terms, commercials, public service programming, and government use of communications infrastructure. The Act also establishes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to offer more extensive regulation and monitoring.

Of particular interest to the national security, law enforcement, and intelligence communities, the Act:

  • Common carriers must establish procedures to ensure “appropriate authorization to activate interception of communications or access to call-identifying information” and prevent unauthorized interception or access, as well as “to keep secure and accurate records of any interception or access with or without such authorization.” 229 of the United States Code; and
  • Allows the President to suspend or change rules and regulations if he declares “that there is a war or a threat of war, or a condition of public peril or disaster, or other national emergency, or if he believes it is necessary in the interests of national security or defense.” The President has the authority to prioritize military or security communications, allow government use or control of communications facilities, and suspend or modify “rules and regulations applicable to any or all stations or devices capable of emitting electromagnetic radiations.” 606 (c) of the United States Code (d).

Amendments

Since 1934, the Communications Act has been revised by numerous acts of Congress, the most recent of which was the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) and the USA PATRIOT Act both made amendments that are of particular importance to the national security, law enforcement, and intelligence communities.

Privacy and Other Civil Liberties

Several clauses in the Communications Act address customer privacy, accessibility for people with impairments, and nondiscrimination.

Customer Privacy – Section 222 of the Communications Act of 1934 requires telecommunications carriers to treat customer information with the same level of secrecy as proprietary information held by another common carrier. Carriers are banned from sharing customer information unless the law requires it or the client has given their consent.

Exceptions:

There is an exception for providing a mobile services user’s location to medical, public safety, or law enforcement authorities when the user has requested emergency assistance.

Section 551 ensures that cable subscribers’ personally identifiable information is protected.

When a government agency has adequate power under Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act or the ECPA, there is an exception allowing disclosure to that agency.

Individuals with Disabilities Have Access — The Communications Act provides a number of requirements that compel carriers to provide accommodations for people with disabilities, such as closed captioning and telephone typewriters. 225, 610-11, and 613 of the United States Code.

Nondiscrimination – Section 202 forbids common carriers from discriminating in pricing or service supply against “a particular person, class of persons, or locality.”

Section 554 mandates that cable companies treat employees equally regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, age, or sex.

SEE ALSO:

The Fairness Doctrine (1969);

The FCC and Filthy Words (1978);

The Communications Decency Act (1997).

SOURCES:

The Federal Communications Act 1934

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)

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