FCC Votes Unanimously on Procedural Reforms

Changes include tightening ex parte rules and delegating authority to dismiss some challenges to FCC decisions
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As expected, the FCC voted Feb. 18 to make a number of procedural changes to
its processes, including tightening ex parte rules and delegating authority to
dismiss some challenges to FCC decisions.

Those changes include requiring third parties to provide more information to
the FCC when they make required ex parte filings about their meetings with FCC
commissioners and staff about docketed proceedings.

Rather than simply say a meeting was held on a particular topic, those filings
would be required to summarize the presentations or reference where that
material can be found.

The FCC would also require filings about any meetings, not just ones that raise
new issues or provide new data. It also sought comment on whether it should
require ownership information on parties meeting with the commission.

In addition to changes in the ex parte filings, in a separate notice of
proposed rulemaking (both of which were unanimously approved), the FCC said it
wanted to delegate authority to bureau and office chiefs to dismiss challenges
to FCC commission decisions that are procedurally defective.

That was among a number of procedural changes the FCC said would help produce
more efficient and effective regulation. "This is all part of an ongoing
effort to have the FCC become a model for excellence," said FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski.

Commissioner Michael Copps, who launched the ex parte reforms as acting
chairman last year, called the changes a down payment on broader reform.
"Reform has clearly and happily come to the Federal Communications
Commission," he said, adding that "much more work is ahead of
us."

He also put in a plug for a bill that would allow more than two commissioners
to meet in private. Sunshine rules currently prevent a majority of
commissioners from meeting outside public forums. Copps said that discourages
collegiality, delays important decisions and disserves the public. Combined
with the FCC's reforms approved Thursday, he said, the result would be historic
reforms.

Commissioner Robert McDowell, who has also called for FCC procedural reforms,
generally praised the moves, but added that he was not sure the ex parte rules
needed changing. He agreed that the current rules need better enforcement,
however, and suggested that might do the trick. Part of the item approved
Thursday includes a request for comment on how the FCC can improve enforcement.

McDowell also said he had concerns that the reporting requirements for ex parte
filers and making sure they were applied neutrally and did not fall more
heavily on industry than on groups that were "funded differently."

"Openness and transparency are greatly beneficial to the public, because
citizens' groups lack the resources to have meetings with Commission staff with
the same frequency as do industry representatives," said Media Access
Project President Andrew Schwartzman in an e-mailed statement. "MAP
has long believed that the ex parte rules have been susceptible to evasion. We
are therefore heartened that the Commission has taken steps for substantial
improvement."

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