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Overview of Communications Law

Communications law is the body of law that encompasses the regulations concerning public and private communication. As you can imagine, this area of law is truly immense as the sphere and spectrum of communication and media continues to evolve and proliferate at a dizzying rate. The Communications Act of 1934 combined and organized federal regulation of telephone, telegraph, and radio communications. Prior to the era of the smartphone, email marketing, and instant messaging services, the law in 1934 sought to regulate the newspaper and radio industry. The Act also established the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent federal agency, whose purpose was to oversee and regulate the communications industry in the United States. As the modes of communication have evolved, so has the breadth and scope of the FCC’s domain.

Since 1934, the act has been periodically updated in order to remain relevant in the landscape of an ever-changing country and world. Over the years, broadcast, cable and satellite television regulation and legislation were added as well as Internet regulation. Most recently, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 marked the most dramatic overhaul of communications regulation in the country in over 60 years. The stated objective of the update in 1996 was to remove regulatory barriers to entry into the communications business, paving the way for any communications business to compete in any market against any other. Current hot topics in communications law concern the rise of cloud computing and the use of smartphones and other mobile devices.

Telecommunications, the FCC, and Cable Contracts

With the gradual expansion of telecommunications services and its impact on our daily lives, the role of the FCC continues to change and evolve with the times. The FCC’s primary interests of regulation and oversight involve the media, competition, spectrum, and broadband. However, since its creation, the FCC’s regulation of interstate communications also serves the purpose of public safety and homeland security. One of the FCC’s stated goals and objectives is continuous modernization.

The FCC’s impact on our daily lives is noticeable and significant. If you’re frustrated that your favorite rap song is censored over the radio, you can blame the FCC. Despite First Amendment guarantees of free speech, the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the FCC’s prohibition of pornography on broadcast television. The FCC has also been at the center of the raging controversy over regulation of Internet service providers and net neutrality.

One of the important orders issued by the FCC governs the exclusivity of cable contracts. In 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the FCC order which banned the exclusivity provision in service contracts between cable companies and apartment building owners. This rule also applies to condominiums and cooperatives. Under this rule, a cable company cannot include a provision in the contract for providing service that gives the cable company exclusive rights to provide service to that building. This rule created more consumer freedom and choice of provider.

What a Communications Attorney Can Do

The field of communications law is immense. A communications lawyer may do many different things, depending on their role and who their client is. Many communications lawyers help their clients understand the complicated regulations and policies in communications law. Communications lawyers, both at private law firms and as in-house counsel, will advise media and communications companies on commercial transactions including mergers and acquisitions, negotiate contract terms and disputes, and manage compliance and tax issues. For those communications lawyers working in the government sector, their work may focus on competition, regulation, and cybersecurity or net neutrality.

Why Should I Hire a Communications Attorney?

Communications lawyers are experts in the field of communications law. Their expertise makes them a good resource for corporate clients who need to understand and adhere to federal regulation. There are many fiercely contested issues in the area of communications law and a communications lawyer can be a strong advocate for your company or organization. Directly or indirectly, communications law affects virtually everyone and every company or organization. Communications lawyers also help individuals who may have had their rights violated, perhaps in a contract dispute over a media appearance, or service issues with a cable or Internet provider. If the issue or problem you’re experiencing concerns a mode of communication, a communications lawyer may be able to help you seek relief.

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