House Panel Holding Another FCC Oversight Hearing Today
July 28, 2015 at 11:35 AM (PT)
FCC Chairman TOM WHEELER and Commissioner AJIT PAI face yet another House Communications Subcommittee FCC oversight hearing TODAY (7/28).
The memo accompanying the hearing warns that "In the months since the Committee’s last examination of the Commission’s actions under the leadership of Chairman WHEELER, concerns regarding FCC process and policy continue to mount."
The agenda includes discussion of the television broadcast spectrum incentive auction, revisions to the designated entity rules, privacy, and FCC process reform, on which the Committee memo notes, "The abuses of delegated authority, lack of transparency and accountability in agency decision-making and other agency processes (such as agency restructuring and budgeting), and agency overreach, paints an unsettling picture. That the deficiencies in process have continued notwithstanding the Committee’s scrutiny is of particular concern."
In his prepared testimony, WHEELER said, "Since I arrived at the Commission, improving the way this agency does business has been a high priority. We immediately conducted a top-to-bottom review to identify areas in need of reform, and we have subsequently taken a series of efforts to create a leaner, more efficient, more productive, and more transparent organization. Currently, there are ten active working reform objectives within the individual Bureaus and Offices.
"Thanks to these efforts, we’re making decisions faster, increasing speed of disposal on routine matters, expanding electronic filing and distribution, decreasing backlogs, and improving responsiveness to consumers. Others are taking notice. A recent article in FORBES entitled 'How the FCC Saved Me $1,800' proclaimed that 'something has been different lately' about the FCC. The author detailed how her ISP improperly billed her business $1,800 for changing her service and turned her account over to third-party collection. She reached out to the Commission, using our new Consumer Help Center. Two days after filing her complaint with the FCC, her ISP notified her that there we working on the problem, and within a week the charge had been dropped and the issue resolved. You don’t want to overreact to one anecdote, but when FORBES is publishing a piece praising your agency for its efficiency, accessibility, and effectiveness, you know you’re doing something right."
PAI's testimony was more blunt, voicing concerns about the incentive auction ("the Commission has not been transparent enough.... I have heard numerous complaints that the Commission has not published enough information to allow the public to assess the validity of the arguments that Commission staff are making in favor of the Chairman’s proposals. And I also do not feel that I have been given enough information to do the same.... Republican Commissioners continue to be shut out of the process"), the designated entity program ("plagued with abuse"), rural broadband ("too many rural areas are being left behind.... we have made progress for rural Americans living in areas served by our nation’s largest telecommunications companies, but we are failing those residing in areas served by the smallest"), and AM revitalization ("I’m disappointed that, almost two years after the FCC kicked off the AM radio revitalization process, the agency hasn’t delivered. In fact, we haven’t even been given an order to vote on... A bureaucracy that springs into action to overregulate markets that haven’t failed, like over-the- top video, shouldn’t snooze when it comes to markets that actually need our help, like AM radio").
O'Rielly Outlines Reform Ideas At Free State Foundation
Meanwhile, across town at the FREE STATE FOUNDATION's policy seminar at the NATIONAL PRESS CLUB, Commissioner MIKE O'RIELLY was calling for further FCC process reform, asserting that "if done correctly, improving the FCC’s procedures can lead to a demonstrable advancement in the information and communications sector, and thus the U.S. economy. Every vote that centers on the specifics of the policy – rather than the shortcomings of the process – improves overall confidence in the agency and its regulations. This impacts not only the affected companies and consumers, but also partner companies, the greater financial community, and even Capitol Hill. Clarity, predictability and fair play at the Commission matter very much to the outside world. Our process can lower costs for borrowing, impact deals and mergers, and improve company bottom lines, which can translate into advances in innovation, increased employment and a higher standard of living for all Americans."
In his talk, he defined process reform as "exposing the weaknesses and correcting the flaws in the mechanisms for decision-making at the Commissioner or 'Eighth Floor' level." He clarified that he does "not view process reform as a revenge maneuver for Net Neutrality, nor have I had any conversations with the diligent and relevant Members and staff, regarding the interaction between process reform and the policy disagreements on that issue. As I have said before, many of the procedural concerns arose prior to the current Administration or Chairmanship." But he criticized "selective backtracking by some from the (process reform) task force’s purposes" and suggested that reform centers on four factors, including improving the functionality of the Commission, improving the Commission’s legitimacy by avoiding procedural shortcuts, greater transparency of Commission actions and decisions, and avoiding undermining the authority of the majority.
His solutions, as outlined in nine earlier blog posts, include posting meeting items in advance, narrowing and restricting editorial privileges to non-substantive edits, clarification that "the circulation of Open Meeting items" should mean that the items have been transferred from staff to the Commissioners for consideration with the final version provided to Commissioners no later than 24 hours before the start of the meeting, restrictions on the use of "guest speakers" at open meetings, adding sunset provisions to agency orders, changing delegation practices to give Commissioners the right to request any item be bumped up to the full Commission for resolution, revision of rules allowing "predictive judgments” and interim rules, a more neutral approach to appointments for advisory committees, and working with the Departments of Treasury and Justice to follow up on whether fines are actually paid.