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Bringing the FCC Into the Digital Age

Bringing the FCC Into the Digital Age 3/17/2013 8:00 PM Eastern

The Federal Communications Commission’s processes and ways of conducting business are the byproduct of a utility-centric regulatory mindset left over from last century’s more monopolistic era. The agency should reorient its processes to refl ect the nimble, competitive, convergent character of the marketplace today.

With thanks to FCC commissioner Ajit Pai for spurring my thinking during a panel with him and colleague Mignon Clyburn at the Minority Media and Telecom Council’s annual Broadband and Social Justice conference, I have compiled a list of some of the reforms that should be considered by the agency or by Congress. The reforms should garner bipartisan support from the current commissioners and be greeted with widespread enthusiasm.

1.) Closed Meeting Act: The Sunshine Act ensures that decisions are made behind closed doors. Key Senate Commerce Committee members have publicly supported allowing the FCC to meet and work in a more collaborative manner, enabling it to function more effi ciently and effectively.

2.) Sunset Requirements: Every rule or regulation should have a date when it would automatically “expire” unless the FCC affi rmatively takes action to continue it. The 1996 Telecom Act set a deregulatory goal, and sunset provisions would help achieve that goal.

3.) Consolidated Reports: Given the current era of convergence and competition, the commission should produce a single marketplace report. This biennial comprehensive report would focus on the state of intermodal competition, deployment to unserved communities, and elimination of regulatory barriers.

4.) Trials and Experiments: In the Internet-protocol transition proceeding, the agency should exercise its forbearance and waiver authorities to permit next-generation services trials. Real-world trial data can inform future deregulatory actions. The FCC should be open to similar experiments using its forbearance and waiver authorities to spur elimination of legacy regulations.

5.) Specific Timetables for FCC Action: Dockets should be assigned time periods for FCC bureau review and full commission action. Bureaus could be directed to dispose of more issues without full FCC review. Timetables would provide more certainty to interested parties, benefi tting both consumers and regulated entities.

6.) Rocket Dockets: Certain issues should be combined for expedited treatment. A designated commissioner might “ride herd” over a specifi c docket for resolution by the full FCC. This would resolve the backlog of items that have been languishing for years.

7.) Confl ict-Resolution Process: Mediation could be an FCC tool employed to ensure more effi cient, effective, and timely decision-making. Parties can agree upon a specific time period for the process, again ensuring more control over both outcome and speed of decisions.

8.) Biennial Review: Eliminating costly regulations can promote innovation and investment. However, in current practice, meaningful changes rarely occur. For truly “productive” reviews of regulations, the commission should undertake a comprehensive look at compiled bureau reports, vote on pressing issues, and conduct rulemakings to repeal unnecessary regulations.

If some or all of the above suggestions are adopted, the FCC — in this era of increased competition, rapid technological changes, and service convergence — will be in a position to carry out its responsibilities in a more effi cient and effective manner, resulting in savings to government, industry and taxpayers.

Deborah Taylor Tate is a former FCC member and a distinguished adjunct senior fellow at the Free State Foundation.

March