Barton Issues FCC Reform Draft Bill


Washington -- A top House Republican is circulating draft legislation aimed at forcing the Federal Communications Commission to act more openly under predictable deadlines.

Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is proposing legislation that would require the FCC to break old habits that have angered regulated industries and consumer groups alike.

A House aide said the draft bill's intent was to get a conversation going among lawmakers about ways of reforming the FCC.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin inherited many of the non-transparent ways of doing business at the agency. But until he started getting pressure from Barton and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), Martin resisted making any procedural reforms.

In 2008, Martin began meeting with reporters more regularly; began disclosing actions he wanted the FCC to take three weeks before the scheduled vote; and started publishing on the agency's web site a once non-public list of matters he had distributed to the other commissioners for a vote.

In his bill, Barton would not allow the FCC to adopt, modify or delete a final regulation without publishing the specific rule in advance.

Before voting, the FCC would have to give the public 60 days to comment on proposed rules, and the chairman would not be allowed to rush the other commissioners into voting immediately after the 60-day window had closed.

Barton's draft would end the FCC's practice of seeking public comment on vaguely worded proposals and then adopting related rules that no had a chance to review. The current process effectively forces parties to seek reconsideration by the FCC or take the FCC to court.

Relative to internal deadlines, Barton would give the FCC no more than 30 days to publish "any order, decision, report or action" previously adopted. The agency would also need to publish annually its "anticipated release schedule" for all statistical reports.

Last November, the FCC adopted its annual video competition report to Congress at its monthly public meeting. The report, mainly an examination of 2006 cable industry trends, has languished in the Media Bureau for 35 weeks.