Two bills to reform the Federal Communications Commission's decades-old procedures for regulating the $3 trillion communications business have been introduced into the House and Senate by former broadcaster Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
The bills require the FCC to reveal its procedures. “We want them to disclose how they operate. Other agencies do this, the FCC should,” said Walden, at a press conference. With a stack of four 4-inch notebooks to prove his point, Walden complained, among other things, of the FCC’s habit of dumping documents at the last minute: “The FCC waited until the 11th hour on Universal Service Fund Reform, dumping 16 binders with as little as two days for the public to review."
Specifically, the bills require the FCC to conduct marketplace research and cost-benefit analyses before initiating any rulemaking procedure. Also, the commission would not be able to vote on a rule until the full text of the regulation was available to the public, and it would be required to set up shot clock time limits for its procedures.
“I know what it’s like to work with the FCC. Right now it’s a backwards process,” said Walden. “I don’t think [it] should be able to dramatically alter an industry by voting on a press release. I think it’s better to have a rule out there, then everyone knows the specifics.”
Walden, who chairs the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, plans to hold a markup of the bills Nov. 16. His subcommittee has already conducted two hearings on FCC process reform, where the debate got pretty heated.
Walden and his fellow GOP members have been critical of the FCC and some of its recent decisions. Earlier this year, the House passed a resolution of disapproval against the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which go into effect Nov. 20. Walden has also criticized the FCC for eliciting “voluntary” conditions in merger reviews that are unrelated to the FCC’s statutory authority.
“Comcast-NBCU is a plentiful source of side agreements that were never part of the FCC’s public interest or regulatory authority,” Walden noted.
Time is working against the bills making it through Congress. While they have a good chance in the House—despite the Democrats putting up a fuss during the hearings—the Senate may be an uphill climb. But Heller, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he’s talked to ranking member Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and "she’s on board. Since she and the chairman [Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va.] are close, I think that will help a lot."