News

FCC Votes Unanimously on Pro-Transparency Changes

3/12/2010 7:50 AM Eastern

The Federal Communications
Commission voted
unanimously last week to
make a number of procedural
changes to its processes, including
tightening ex parte
rules and delegating authority
to dismiss some challenges to
agency decisions.

Those changes include requiring
third parties to provide more
information to the FCC when they
make required ex parte filings
about their meetings with FCC
commissioners and staff about
docketed proceedings.

Rather than simply saying a
meeting was held on a particular
topic, those filings would be
required to summarize the presentations
or reference where
that material could be found.

The FCC would also require
filings about any meetings — not
just ones that raise new issues or
provide new data. It also sought
comment on whether it should
require ownership information
on parties meeting with the commission.

In a separate notice of proposed
rulemaking, also passed
unanimously, the FCC said it
wanted to delegate authority
to bureau and office chiefs to
dismiss challenges to FCC decisions
that are procedurally defective.

That was among a number of
procedural changes the FCC said
would help produce more efficient
and effective regulation.
“This is all part of an ongoing effort
to have the FCC become a
model for excellence,” said FCC
chairman Julius Genachowski.

Commissioner Michael Copps,
who launched the ex parte reforms
as acting chairman last
year, called the changes a downpayment
on broader reform.
“Reform has clearly and happily
come to the Federal Communications
Commission,” he said,
adding that “much more work is
ahead of us.”

He also put in a plug for a bill
that would allow more than two
commissioners to meet in private.
Sunshine rules currently
prevent a majority of commissioners
from meeting outside of
public forums. Copps said that
discourages collegiality, delays
important decisions and disserves
the public. Combined
with the FCC’s reforms approved
Thursday, he said, the result
would be historic reforms.

Commissioner Robert Mc-
Dowell, who has also called for
FCC procedural reforms, generally
praised the moves, but
added that he was not sure the
ex parte rules needed changing.
He agreed that the current rules
need better enforcement, however,
and suggested that might
do the trick.

Part of the item approved
Th ursday includes a request for
comment on how the FCC can
improve enforcement.

McDowell also said he had concerns
that the reporting requirements
for those making ex parte
filings and making sure they were
applied neutrally and did not fall
more heavily on industry than on
groups that were “funded differently.”

“Openness and transparency
are greatly beneficial to the
public, because citizens’ groups
lack the resources to have meetings
with commission staff with
the same frequency as do industry
representatives,” said Media
Access Project President
Andrew Schwartzman in an emailed
statement. “MAP has
long believed that the ex parte
rules have been susceptible to
evasion. We are therefore heartened
that the Commission has
taken steps for substantial improvement.”

September