A broadcast license (U.S.) or broadcast licence (elsewhere) is a specific type of spectrum licence that grants the licensee the privilege to use a portion of the radio frequency spectrum in a given geographical area for broadcasting purposes.
Licensing is typically performed by a government agency (the broadcasting authority), providing a mechanism both for managing the limited resource of radio frequency spectrum and for implementing prevailing public policy, such as policies regarding concentration of media ownership. The determination of which frequencies can be used by various licensees is done through a frequency allocation process, which in the U.S. is further specified by the FCC in a table of allotments.
Management of technical specifications, such as those implemented in broadcast television systems, is normally undertaken as a part of broadcast licensing in each country. Various radio bands carry different radio signals, such as video and audio, digital and analog, narrowband and broadband, and different types of content, and are therefore licensed differently.
Licensing is also different for public radio and public television, and for community radio and community television, as compared to commercial applicants and licensees.
Violation of the terms of a license, either due to technical fault or illegal content, may result in fines, or rarely even revocation of the license. Licenses have also been threatened by a lack of candor on the part of the holder, or the failure to keep a public file (U.S. and Canada).
Unlicensed broadcasting refers both to legal devices allowed to transmit at low power without a license, and pirate stations which violate the law, often because of insurmountable legal restrictions on getting a license.