Barton, Stearns Introduce FCC Reform Bill

Bill would codify comment period and speed up release of actual bill text

The ranking members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet (CTI) have introduced a bill to reform the FCC by codifying its comment period-at least 30 days for comments and another 30 for reply comments on any proposed rules.

"If the FCC expects the American people and the regulated community to respect its decisions, I don't think it is too much to ask the FCC to show some respect for them in return. Not only will this improve everyone's confidence in the FCC's decisions, it will improve the decisions themselves," said ranking Energy & Commerce member Joe Barton (R-TX) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL), in announcing the bill.

Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps has long argued for more opportunity for public comment on FCC decisions, stemming in part from the way the former Republican chairman, Kevin Martin, handled the media ownership rule review process. But the Copps FCC has had to abbreviate comment periods itself on DTV-related items as the commission administered Congress' last-minute change of the DTV transition date, a change Copps favored but Stearns and Barton did not.

The bill would also give the commission 30 days from the adoption of a policy to the release of the actual text. Heretofore, that has sometimes taken several months.

"The longer it takes for that language to come, the more it begins to look like the decision was not really made when the FCC said it was, but rather ironed out later through last-minute, back-room deals," said Barton and Stearns. "Guilty or not, the FCC is widely suspected of changing its mind between decision and regulation."