Compromise FCC Reform Legislation Headed to Markup

Would put some shot clocks on FCC, allow private meetings; does not limit merger conditions

The House Communications Subcommittee has reached bipartisan consensus on an FCC process reform bill and a second bill that would pay government agencies to relinquish or share spectrum, as the FCC is doing with commercial broadcasters. The bills will be marked up (amended and voted on in the full Energy & Commerce Committee) this week.

That is according to Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who announced the compromise. The FCC Reform bill passed out of committee on a voice vote earlier this year, but with the understanding that it would take compromise to make it out of the committee.

Republicans, for example, wanted to limit merger conditions the FCC could impose, but that transactions review standards section in the original bill has been excised.

FCC Process Reform Act (H.R. 3675) compromise bill sets maximum comment periods (with a carveout for good cause exemptions) for regulatory actions, including petitions for reconsideration; "establish procedures for publishing the status of open rulemaking proceedings and proposed orders, decisions, reports, or actions on circulation for review by the Commissioners, including which Commissioners have not cast a vote on an order, decision, report, or action that has been on circulation for more than 60 days."

The bill also moves some of the more contentious issues down the road, including decentralizing power. For instance it calls for a report on "whether and how" to 1) allow commissioners, rather than just the chairman, to put issues on the agenda; 2) establish procedures for informing commissioners of their options for resolving a petition, complaint, application or rulemaking; 3) give commissioners adequate time to review items before they have to vote on them; 4) publish the text of agenda items before they are voted on in an open meeting so the public can read them; 4) deadlines for deciding of license applications; to impose a license fee to help pay for any additional cost of meeting those deadlines; publish all orders, decisions and reports within 30 days of adoption.

The FCC will also have to review its rules every five years for possible additional changes.

The bill also changes the sunshine rules to allow more than two commissioners to meet in private so long as no votes are cast and an attorney from the General Counsel's office is present. There will also have to be a a public accounting of the meeting, including who was there and a summary of what was discussed.

Consumer complaints will also have to be made public in a searchable database, but the FCC will only have to include one complaint if there are duplicative complaints about the same alleged misconduct.

The FCC will have to provide more information about compliance with FOIA requests.

While an already House-passed FCC reform bill would consolidate reports, this reform bill adds an annual report on how the FCC is meeting its new deadlines.

The Federal Spectrum Incentive Act (H.R. 3674), introduced by Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), would take a page from the broadcast incentive auction by allowing government agencies to share in some of the  proceeds in exchange for freeing up spectrum for auction.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has long been arguing for such payments to incentivize government agencies to use spectrum more efficiently.