The Catholic University of America

Summary of Federal Laws

Miscellaneous Laws that Might Apply

Compliance Partners


Communications Act of 1934
(amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996)

Pub. L. No. 104-104, 110 Stat. 5647 (1996); 47 U.S.C. § 151 et seq.; 47 U.S.C. §§ 153, 251, 252, 253, and 255 and amended by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, (CALEA) 47 USC §§ 1001-1010

The Communications Act of 1934 created the FCC and gave this new agency the power to regulate telephones and radio. The 1996 Act amends the 1934, but is actually much longer. The purpose of the law was to encourage competition, but it also has a vast regulatory scheme.

One section of the law deals with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Licenses for Instructional TV Channels, etc. Title 47 U.S.C. § 396(k) requires public radio stations that receive funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to make available for public inspection annual financial audits or statements filed with the Corporation.

Net NeutralityAnnouncement by FCC, 2-26-15**

The adopted Open Internet Order: (1) sets three "bright-line" rules for behavior known to harm the Open Internet, (2) adopts an additional, flexible standard to future-proof Internet openness rules, and (3) protects mobile broadband users with the full array of Open Internet rules.


Preserving the Open Internet, Final Rule, 76 Fed. Reg. 59192, Sept. 23, 2011

Effective Nov. 20, 2011. See the Center for Democracy and Technology's update on what the new rules do and do not mean.

Federal Communications Network Neutrality Order, Dec, 23, 2010. GN Docket No. 09-191 WC Docket No. 07-52 (194 pages). This order does not go into effect unitl OMB approves the disclosure requirements. For a summary of the lengthy order read the 12 page Dow Lohnes document titled FCC Releases Network Neutrality Order, dated Dec. 30, 2010.Campus networks are generally "private networks" under FCC regulations and not subject to the rules. This is posted here for general interest. Note the different treatment for wireless and wired connections. The latter are subject to stricter regulation.

Definitional Issues

Title 47 U.S.C. § 255, added in 1996, has the goal of increasing access to telecommunications service by persons with disabilities. Title 47 U.S.C. § 255(c) states that a "provider of telecommunications service shall ensure that the service is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable."

Title 47 U.S.C. § 153(46) defines the term "telecommunications service" as the "offering of telecommunications for a fee directly to the public, or to such classes of users as to be effectively available directly to the public, regardless of the facilities used."

Some colleges and universities may fall under the regulatory purview of this law. There does not seem to be a simple four-part test for who is an aggregator or a provider of telecommunication services. See also the FCC Section 255 Fact Sheet.

Compliance Requirements

Once determined to be subject to the requirements of Section 255, the service provider must ensure that telecommunication service is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable. If the service itself cannot be made fully accessible, the service should be compatible with existing peripheral devices or specialized customer premises equipment commonly used by individuals with disabilities, if compatibility is readily achievable.

In practical terms, this means, for example:

  • that voice mail should work with TTYs,

  • the carrier must interface with relay service,

  • employees and students who use a TRS (telephone relay service) should be told which carrier to specify for long distance calls through the relay service,

  • any wireless communications provided should support TTY and ring signaling, should interfere minimally with hearing aids, and speech read out of visual information should be provided.

Vendors should be asked what kind of specialized customer premises equipment their equipment will attach to. New contracts should all be reviewed for these compatibility issues. Further information will become available on all these issues as new products adapt to the market.

The rules also apply to pagers, call waiting, and operator services. Web page accessibility is not covered under these rules. The rules are generally effective January 28, 2000.

Designation of an agent for receipt of complaints

If a college or university is covered under the definitions above, the college or university must designate an agent. The agent's principal function will be to ensure the service provider's prompt receipt and handling of accessibility concerns raised by consumers or FCC staff. The deadline date for designation of an agent by a "provider of telecommunication services" is Jan. 31, 2002. See 67 Fed. Reg. 678 (Jan. 7, 2002). Institutions that have already designated an agent will not need to redesignate. For a list of the colleges and universities that have registered (and who they designated as an agent) see

Further information is available online at or at

FCC Nationional Broadband Plan: What is in it for Higher Education? by Kenneth Salomon. See also the 365 Page FCC March 16, 2010 Plan.

FCC Policy Statement and Order May 13, 2013. This order announces a new policy applying to first-time violations of certain FCC documentation requirements (but not substantive violations) by college and university radio stations entirely operated by students.  Such stations committing violations of the documentation requirements described in the Policy Statement and Order will have the option to negotiate a consent decree agreeing to institute a compliance plan and making a voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury.

Case Law

Comcast Corporation v. FCC, Case No. 08-1291; U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, April 6, 2010

Court held that the FCC had no authority to regulate an Internet service provides network management practices. In the case, "Comcast defended its interference with peer to peer file sharing programs as necessary to manage scarce network capacity." The FCC had relied upon 47 USC § 154(i) for the authority to issue the ruling. In finding the FCC did not have the necessary authority, the court stated: "The Commission may exercise this "ancillary" authority only if it demonstrates that its action-here barring Comcast from interfering with its customers' use of peer-to-peer networking applications-is "reasonably ancillary to the . . . effective performance of its statutorily mandated responsibilities. ....The Commission has failed to make that showing."

See the Q&A: The Ripple Effect of the Net Neutrality Ruling, posted April 6, 2010 on NPR for a short summary of the ruling and the Public Knowledge blog titled *The FCC lacks the Authority to Protect Internet Users--Now What?*

ACE v. CALEA, No. 05-1404, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Decided June 9, 2006

This case involves a statutory interpretation of 47 USC § 1002. This law provides that a telecommunications carrier shall ensure that its equipment, facilities, or services that provide a customer or subscriber with the ability to originate, terminate, or direct communications are capable of being expeditiously isolated and accessed by the government pursuant to a court order or other lawful authorization. The communication must be able to be accessed before, during, or immediately after the transmission of a wire or electronic communication. An exception in section 1002 excludes from this requirement information services; or equipment, facilities, or services that support the transport or switching of communications for private networks or for the sole purpose of interconnecting telecommunications carriers.

In September of 2005, the FCC issued an Order (FCC 05-153) that stated that broadband and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) providers were covered (at least in part) by CALEA's definition of "telecommunications carriers". Implementation of this Order (required by May 14, 2007) would necessitate colleges and universities that are broadband or VoIP providers to redesign their networks at a cost estimated to be over $450* per student in tuition fees. Given these high stakes, the America Council on Education (ACE) challenged the order, and this decision, which upheld the FCC Order is the result of the litigation.

In a 2-1 decision, the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit agreed with the FCC that providers of both broadband and VoIP serve as replacements for a substantial functionality of local telephone exchange service. This is key, as the definition of a telecommunications carrier in 47 USC § 1001(8) includes those providers that substantially replaces traditional transmission or switching. The court also found CALEA differed from the Telecom Act by not using the phrases "telecommunications carrier" and "information services" as mutually exclusive terms. The court found the FCC interpretation of the law reasonable. The court did state that if the case had been reviewed de novo, the ACE argument might have been found to be the more persuasive one.

EDUCAUSE Resource Page on CALEA

This web page includes the briefs filed by EDUCAUSE, NAICU, ACE, the ALA and others with the FCC. See the Reply brief filed in ACE v. FCC, and the May 3, 2006 summary of the vote and discussion of the CALEA Second Report and Order from the FCC Open Commission meeting.

A note on CALEA and compliance, from Tracy Mitrano, posted to ICPL 12/22/10

"Per CALEA, guest access does not trip the wire for compliance. Only if the institutional I.S.P. sells network services to the public is one of the two prongs tickled; the other prong being no commodity intermediary between the institutional network and the "Internet," which makes sense because the underlying idea of the law is to expedite technical connections for law enforcement. Private networks that attach to commodity networks can rely on the latter to provide what law enforcement requires."

NACUA Notes - FCC’s $10,000 Fines Against College Radio Stations: Playing Bad Records May Be Legal; Keeping Bad Records is Not (December 4, 2012)



























updated 7-23-14 to add ACE Net Neutrality