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Communications Act of 1934

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

The Communications Act of 1934 is United States legislation that transfers the Federal Radio Commission’s authority over radio regulation to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which was newly formed under the Act’s provisions. The legislation provided strict controls over the collection and sale of customer personally identifiable information (PII), including calling history.

The Communications Act of 1934 took separate existing laws and brought them together, applying provisions of the Federal Radio Act of 1927 and those pertaining to telephone service in the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910. As stated in the Act’s first section, the legislation allows the FCC to enforce both included and future regulations. This provision gives the government influence over technologies that did not exist at that time, including television and the internet.

Although no country is in charge of regulating the internet, the FCC has considerable influence over communications regulations in the United States, stemming from Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which classified telephone companies as common carriers. Common carriers can offer utility services to the general public under license or authority provided by a regulatory body, in this case, the FCC. If the internet is considered a utility, ISPs are subject to the same bright-line rules and compliance regulations as power companies or telecom carriers.

Sixty-two years later, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 amended the 1934 law and exempted the emerging internet from common carrier regulation, but in February of 2016, the FCC voted in favor of reclassifying broadband IPSs as common carriers. Since then, the question of whether or not internet service providers (ISPs) should be classified as common carriers and who has the authority decide whether or not ISPs should be classified as common carriers has been hotly contested in the Net Neutrality debate.

In March of 2017, the Trump administration announced plans to repeal FCC regulations that extend privacy requirements from the Communications Act of 1934 to broadband internet service providers and other telecommunications carriers. According to the Trump administration, the privacy requirements specified in the Communications Act of 1934 require ISPs and edge providers to address privacy differently, and this fundamentally goes against the FCC's technology-neutral framework for online privacy.

This was last updated in April 2017

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