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.

Dec. 14, 2017 FCC repeals Net Neutrality Rules*

See NYTimes FCC Repeals Net Neutrality Rules and Repeal of Net Neutrality Rules Disappoints Higher-Ed Associations in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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 (53) 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."

See also the FCC Section 255 Fact Sheet, which states as follows in the introduction: 

FCC rules under Section 255 of the Communications Act require telecommunications equipment manufacturers and service providers to make their products and services accessible to people with disabilities, if such access is readily achievable. Where access is not readily achievable, manufacturers and service providers must make their devices and services compatible with peripheral devices and specialized customer premises equipment that are commonly used by people with disabilities, if such 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. See 67 Fed. Reg. 678 (Jan. 7, 2002).

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 provider's 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."

 

Resources

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)

 

National Association for the Deaf issues on the Communications Act

 Net Neutrality in the U.S. 

 FCC page on CALEA 

 

 

 

 

 updated mlo 12-29-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

updated 12-29-17 mlo