How does the FCC affect public television?

Public broadcasting is mandated to strictly follow a set of standards, practices, and regulations to retain its non-commercial nature.  The FCC is responsible for prescribing appropriate rules and regulations to implement the broad provisions of the Communications Act and the Public Broadcasting Act.  The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is responsible for enforcing the Communications Act, as well as the Commission’s rules, orders and authorizations. The Enforcement Bureau's Investigations & Hearings Division is responsible for investigating complaints regarding violations of the non-commercial broadcast station enhanced underwriting rules.

The FCC responds to complaints that public broadcasters have aired promotional messages and issues fines and admonishments when it finds that these standards have been violated. The FCC communicates its rules through:

  • Rulemaking proceedings.  After providing notice and an opportunity for public comment, the FCC adopts formal rules, which are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations.
  • Policy statements.  The FCC provides additional guidance about how it will interpret and apply its rules through policy statements.  These are articulated in public notices or reports and orders announcing the adoption of rules or granting or denying requests for reconsideration.      
  • Enforcement decisions and advisory opinions.  When the FCC is asked to take enforcement action or render an advisory opinion with respect to an underwriting announcement, its disposition of the matter reveals how it will apply its rules to those particular facts and, by analogy, to similar facts in the future.  Over time, these decisions create a body of precedent on which both broadcasters and FCC staff can consider (in conjunction with advice from appropriate legal counsel) in determining whether a particular underwriting announcement is permissible. 

Section 399B of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (47 U.S.C. § 399b) and Sections 73.503 and 73.621 of the Commission's rules, (47 C.F.R. §§ 73.503 and 73.621) govern enhanced underwriting issues related to non-commercial broadcast stations. For information regarding these provisions as well as recent FCC enforcement actions, v
isit the FCC Web site.