Federal Communications Law Journal

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Citation

56 Federal Communications Law Journal 397 (2004)


An FCC license for the use of the electromagnetic spectrum is a valuable asset, but it exists only for a limited duration. Therefore, obtaining a license renewal is vital to a licensee, especially one who has participated in an auction and made substantial investments in order to obtain the rights the license confers. This Note describes the mechanisms by which licensees obtain greater certainty that their licenses will be renewed, including the concept of renewal expectancy. One form of such expectancy is the ambiguous "substantial service" requirement. This Note explains the origins of the term, discusses its current uses, and shows how this requirement is linked to the FCC's policy of flexible use. This Note explores how, when the policy of substantial service is used to promote flexible use, potential problems arise. Specifically, this Note asks whether substantial service, as applied to licenses issued under broad service rules designed to promote the widest possible variety of use, creates too ambiguous a standard for licensees to know with sufficient certainty that their licenses will be renewed. Additionally, this Note questions whether the substantial service standard, as it is currently applied, consistent with the goals of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended.

The Author argues that these problems can be solved by either the FCC returning to the policy of specifically announcing service benchmarks or through legislative change that would eliminate the requirement that a licensee must demonstrate compliance with service requirements.