The United States after the World War

By James C. Malin | Go to book overview

The origin of the principle of public interest in radio is very recent. Before 1924 broadcasting was considered strictly private, although commercial point-to-point stations were considered common carriers as early as the act of 1910, which gave the Interstate Commerce Commission jurisdiction over rates. At the Third Annual Radio Conference ( October, 1924) Hoover gave the first official expression of the publicinterest theory: he stated that radio had become a great public utility, and that radio problems must be solved from the standpoint of public service.

The ether is a public medium, and its use must be for the public benefit. The use of a radio channel is justified only if there is public benefit. . . . The greatest public interest must be the deciding factor. I presume that few will dissent as to the correctness of this principle . . . . but its acceptance leads to important and far-reaching practical effects . . . from which . . . there is no logical escape.

The radio conference assented to Hoover's statement of policy, but injected into it the following very important qualifying statement: "That those engaged in radio broadcasting shall not be required to devote their property to public use, and their properties are therefore not public utilities in fact or in law. . . ." This point of view was indorsed in the main by Stephen Davis, solicitor of the Department of Commerce, in his treatise on the law of radio communication ( 1927). There did seem to be, however, a serious defect in a policy which authorized the application of the principle of public interest, convenience, or necessity to the erection of a new station or the relicensing of existing stations and which then denied to the government the power to require that public service be rendered after the license was once granted. Just exactly what was meant by "public interest, convenience, or necessity"?

Another aspect of the question was whether the licensing authority could refuse to grant a new license even though the law specifically so provided. The Fifth Amendment to the

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