The Essential Guide to VoIP and the FCC

Updated: April 30, 2009

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is the independent U.S. government agency in charge of regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC's jurisdiction encompasses all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and all U.S. possessions.

Created by the Communications Act of 1934 as the successor to the FRC (Federal Radio Commission), the FCC reports directly to Congress. The agency is led by five commissioners, each of whom is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms (except when appointed to complete an unexpired term). The president chooses one of the commissioners to serve as the chairperson. No more than three commissioners may come from the same political party. No commissioner is permitted of to have a financial stake in any FCC-regulated enterprise.


The FCC is organized into seven Bureaus and 10 Offices:

  • Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau: This bureau provides consumer-oriented information on telecommunications-related technologies and services. It also coordinates telecommunications-policy efforts with industry agencies and other governmental agencies at all levels.
  • Enforcement Bureau: This bureau enforces Communications Act provisions, as well as FCC rules, orders and authorizations.
  • International Bureau: The International Bureau represents the FCC in international matters, such as cross-border regulatory issues and global satellite communications.
  • Media Bureau: The Media Bureau oversees radio and television broadcasters, as well as cable-television and satellite services.
  • Wireless Telecommunications Bureau: This bureau supervises mobile phones, pagers and two-way radios. It also regulates business-, aviation-, marine- and personal-communications services.
  • Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau: This bureau handles public safety, homeland security, national security, emergency management and preparedness, disaster management , and other related concerns.
  • Wireline Competition Bureau: The Wireline Competition Bureau manages the rules and policies covering wireline phone companies that offer interstate and, under certain circumstances, intrastate telecommunications services.
  • Office of Administrative Law Judges: This office conducts hearings and issues initial decisions.
  • Office of Communications Business Opportunities: This office advises the FCC on issues and policies relating to business-ownership opportunities for small communications enterprises, as well as those owned by minorities and women.
  • Office of Engineering and Technology: The Office of Engineering and Technology allocates electromagnetic spectrum — the frequencies that carry broadcast, mobile-phone, wireless -network and other signals — to nongovernment users. The office also provides the FCC with expert technical advice.
  • Office of General Counsel: This office acts as the FCC's chief legal advisor.
  • Office of Inspector General: This office functions as the agency's investigations and audits supervisor.
  • Office of Legislative Affairs: The Office of Legislative Affairs is the FCC's main liaison with Congress.
  • Office of Managing Director: This office is the FCC's chief operating official.
  • Office of Media Relations: The Office of Media Relations is the FCC's public-relations branch. This office's primary task is to distribute news and information to the media, as well as to coordinate media interviews with FCC commissioners and employees.
  • Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis: This office develops strategic plans that identify policy objectives for the FCC.
  • Office of Workplace Diversity: This office advises the FCC on work-force diversity, affirmative recruitment and equal-employment-opportunity issues.

Rules, Orders and Authorizations

In its role as the U.S.'s communications regulator, the FCC is responsible for creating rules, orders and authorizations that reflect the provisions of the Communications Act of 1934, as well as the more recent Telecommunications Act of 1996. FCC responsibilities include licensing radio and television stations, monitoring and evaluating broadcast "decency," and certifying equipment for phone-network compatibility and radio- interference protection. The FCC does not test equipment for safety or performance.

The FCC enforces its mandates through fines, as well as license suspension, revocation and nonrenewal. The agency operates 3 regional offices, 16 district offices and 9 resident-agent offices across the U.S. and its territories. These sites are charged with executing on-scene investigations, inspections and audits. Other FCC responsibilities include responding to life-safety issues, investigating and resolving interference complaints, and investigating violations in all communications services.

Since 1994, the FCC has by law conducted auctions of licenses for specific parts of the electromagnetic spectrum . These auctions are open to any eligible company or individual that submits an application and an up-front payment and is found to be a qualified bidder by the FCC.

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