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Federal Communications Commission
Mission | History | Key Issues | Who's in Charge | On the Web

Tuesday, April 2, 2002


The FCC is the key agency when it comes to regulation of the new economy. Once a relative backwater in the regulatory domain, the agency now wields broad influence over the size of telephone bills, the range of choices for local telephone, cable and Internet services; and the timeline for the introduction of wireless technologies. The FCC oversees telephone, broadcast, cable and wireless industries, and reviews communications company mergers such as the recently completed combination of America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc.


The FCC was established in 1934 by the Communications Act to assert control over the growing field of communications. In its first year, the FCC regulated a broadcast business which then consisted of 623 radio stations and a telephone industry with 14 million phones. The industry has grown to more than 25,000 TV and radio stations in 2001, and more than 192 million phones in 2000. The percentage of households with more than one phone line increased from 3 percent in 1988 to 29 percent in 1999.

Key Issues

Since Congress deregulated the telecommunications industry in 1996, the former Bell companies and upstart phone companies have been at war, with the FCC as regulatory referee, over regional long distance business. The FCC must also identify slices of the radio spectrum that mobile telephone companies can use to meet the growing demand to transmit calls and Internet data.

Who's in Charge?

The FCC's five commissioners are appointed by the president. No more than three can be from the same political party.

• Chairman Michael Powell, Republican, was nominated to the commission by President Clinton and named chairman by President Bush. His term ends June 30, 2002. Read a Post profile of Powell.

• Gloria Tristani, Democrat, nominated by Clinton. Term was set to end June 30, 2003, but she resigned, effective Sept. 7.

• Kathleen Q. Abernathy, Republican, nominated by Bush. Term ends June 30, 2004.

• Michael J. Copps, Democrat, nominated by Bush. Term expires June 30, 2005.

• Kevin Martin, Republican. Nominated by Bush and confirmed by the Senate; to be sworn in July 2. Term ends June 30, 2006.

On the Web

• Special Report: The broadband deregulation debate
List of key issues for the FCC
Consumer complaints
• FCC guide to the 1996 Telecommunications Act