Dems Wary of Some FCC Reform Proposals

Decision making process would be weakened, FCC's independence in jeopardy
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Democrats on the House Communications Subcommittee are
warning that FCC reforms like shot clocks on decisions or deadlines for reports
and comments, which were included among possible reforms by Republican
leadership, "could result in unintended consequences that jeopardize the
FCC's independence and weaken the agency's decision-making process."

That is according to a staff memo for a Friday (May 13) FCC
reform hearing in the subcommittee. The Republican draft had included a raft of
reforms they said "could be considered."

The Democrats saw big problems with a number of them, while
pointing out in their memo that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski had
already taken numerous steps to reform the agency.

The Democrats argue that many of those possible reforms go
beyond requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act and could reduce
the regulatory flexibility. "With respect to elements of the regulatory
process such as comment periods, notice approaches (e.g., Notice of Inquiry vs.
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking), the degree of cost-benefit analysis, and
timeframes for action"--those were all among the Republican's
consideration list. That flexibility, the Democrats argue, "may assist the
FCC in carrying out its core responsibilities under the Communications Act."

For example, while the Republicans, in their own memo,
suggested considering statutory minimums for comment periods, saying it
"could produce better decisions and shield the FCC from pressure to rush
to judgment."

The Democrats counter that "requiring the FCC to
provide at least 30 days for the submission of comments and 30 days for reply
comments may undermine the agency's flexibility to use shorter or longer
comment and reply deadlines in order to fulfill other statutory mandates...In
addition, routine Commission matters such as fee proceedings and refreshing the
record in an open proceeding may not require such extensive comment
periods."

While the Republicans gave FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski a passing shout out for taking reform measures, the
Democrats spent much of their memo highlighting those reforms, including:

- Publishing a weekly report on the status of pending
proceedings and publicizing potential topics for future open meetings;
- Including more details on proposed regulations in notices of proposed
rulemakings and making available more promptly the text of decisions adopted at
open FCC meetings;
- Expanding the options for public input, by supplementing its traditional
notice and comment rulemaking process with public forums and workshops;
- Expanding use of social media methods, and a newly designed web site; and
- Expanding the information being made available to the public, including in
ways that permit the public to make easier use of the data."

All the commissioners but exiting Meredith Attwell Baker
are slated to testify at the hearing Friday.

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