Can The F.C.C. Censor Your Internet Radio Station?

A Visitor to the Radio Site Wants To Know

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A site visitor asks:

I have a question about censorship. I would like to have my own internet streaming radio station, but I am inquisitive about music with profanity. Not saying that I would play such a selection, but would censorship go out the window and not be pursued as much by the FCC since it is an internet station?? - D Woods


The F.C.C. says of itself:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent United States government agency, directly responsible to Congress. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC's jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions.

That being said, the F.C.C. has no jurisdiction over what content an individual broadcasts over the Internet, assuming it is legal. For instance: broadcasting a video stream of child pornography is not legal and therefore would subject the person to criminal action.

Although the Telecommunications Act of 1934 does not address the Internet (obviously, it wasn't invented yet), the Telecommunnications Act of 1996 did but made no provision permitting the F.C.C. to interfere with Internet broadcasts.

So, on your Internet radio station you are free to broadcast whatever music you choose, no matter the content. The same can be said for any spoken word including pre-recorded or live comedy, poetry, political, social or cultural discussions.

Think of Internet broadcasting as pay cable, in a sense. On cable systems the channels subscribed to by users are not subject to F.C.C. regulation (Showtime, HBO, etc.).

Adam Thierer of The Cato Institute, in an article entitled, "Should Government Censor Speech on Cable and Satellite TV?" writes:

Subscription-based media providers have not faced such regulatory scrutiny in the past because they are not licensed by the FCC and, therefore, receive strict First Amendment protection.

The same applies to satellite radio like XM or SIRIUS which is why Howard Stern has been bandying around the idea that he might moved to one to escape the pressure of censorship which has increased since the beginning of 2004.

But, if you are concerned about censorship of your Internet radio station, be assured the F.C.C. will not poke its nose into your business.

There is one caveat, though. Thierer also writes:

An important and troubling shift may be developing regarding the way lawmakers regulate mass media in the United States. During recent congressional hearings on broadcast television and radio violations of Federal Communications Commission indecency standards, several lawmakers hinted that they believed federal censorship efforts should extend beyond licensed TV and radio operators to unlicensed media sources, such as cable, satellite, and Internet providers. And a debate is about to take place on the Senate floor during which some lawmakers have said they will attempt to apply indecency regulations on such subscription-based services.

We will have to wait to see whether further restrictions come about in the future. Personally, I don't believe Congress will attempt to regulate Internet or satellite radio because it would be a highly unpopular move and any action would be bitterly denounced and fought against by not only civil liberties organizations but by citizens en masse who use these services.