Partly Sunny, Chance of ReformReforming the FCC has been on a lot of people’s to-do list for a long time, but many of the criticisms remain unaddressed 6/27/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Reforming the FCC has been on a lot of people’s to-do list for a long
time, but many of the criticisms remain unaddressed.
Republicans in the House, however, are looking to change that with
an FCC reform bill they floated last week. Given
some of the rhetoric at the hearing, it clearly
wasn’t going to be an easy bipartisan sell. But it included
some good ideas that should be explored.
Among them: shot clocks on commission decisions
and limits on merger conditions.
And there are signs that the FCC, too, recognizes
it is time for action. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski
has made a number of strides toward what
has frequently been an ever-receding horizon. As
Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg
Walden conceded last week, Genachowski has,
among other things, been publishing the specific
text of proposed rules, gotten final orders out the
door within days instead of weeks, and has proposed
eliminating outdated regs.
In fact, the chairman has pointed out on more
than one occasion that the number of Notices of
Proposed Rulemaking that actually contained the
text of the rules being proposed is now 85%. If
that seems like a no-brainer—and 15% too few,
which it is—note that it is up from a previous
figure of 38%, according to Genachowski. We are
taking his word for it, but our experience suggests
that is about right.
The time for releasing final orders has gone from
an average of two weeks after a vote to three days,
with most coming within one day, the chairman
told Congress last month. That’s another welcome
change since—even though items have been voted
out—they have only been outlined to the public
and are still subject to “editorial” changes.
Then there are the 49 outdated regs the FCC
has already eliminated, and the 20 data collections
it says it no longer has to get from the industry. Of
course, there have been some additional data collections
added and some new regs, most prominently
the network neutrality regulations. That is
the subject of a different editorial.
The FCC’s reform moves are positive steps and
should be applauded (insert respectful “clapping”
audio file here), but more needs to be done, particularly
to break down the regulatory silos that
still have the FCC dealing, at least structurally,
with the same old regulatory silos. The chairman
has pledged to tear down those walls, as it were.
He has encouraged collaboration, and bureaus
have been teaming up to deliver presentations at
monthly meetings. But those are work-arounds
rather than sledgehammer blows to that wall.
More demolition work is needed.
The FCC has also tried to make its Website more
consumer-friendly. But that remains a work in progress,
and our advice to the FCC is to keep working.
For those who need to consume the information
quickly to report on it, the revamped site is not as
easy to navigate, a criticism we have heard inside the
commission as well, and more than once.
We are not signing on to all the Republican suggestions.
As even reform proponents point out,
the FCC needs some flexibility, or new brightline
guidelines could impede a process they were
meant to speed.
But the Republican leadership has at least shown
a willingness to work on tweaking the draft.
One thing both sides appear to agree on is letting
more than two commissioners meet outside
of their monthly meeting so long as at least one
commissioner from each party is represented and
no actual work is done (insert sarcastic comment
here). We’re not as enthusiastic about that, but
agree with Consumer Federation of America’s
Mark Cooper—an admittedly rare occurrence—
that transcripts of those private meetings, if they
are to be held, should be public record.
One thing that should not be tweaked out of
the proposal is giving the FCC direction on what
conditions it can and can’t put on mergers. For
example, if the draft became law, the commission
would have a hard time making the Comcast/
NBCU network neutrality condition stick if a
court overturns its broader rules.
The public interest standard is sufficiently
vague enough to cover a multitude of regulatory
sins. Congress can help ensure that regulating by
condition is not one of them.