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Dockets @ FCC

Number of dockets initiated vs. year (Source - ECFS)

Ever wonder how many dockets FCC initiates each year? As a public service we are releasing the above graph as well as the raw data. We can recall that at one point in the 1980s the number got above 1000, but the count can be misleading. Sometimes routine FM allotments chew up dozens of docket numbers without any significant policy issues. In recent years docket numbers were assigned to routine waiver requests handled on delegated authority which may have had little policy interest.

On the other hand, the ultracontroversial LightSquared matter had no docket number for a long time and was lingering in the International Bureau’s obscure IBFS filing system under a long file number, e.g. SATMOD2010111800239, however it ultimately got its own mainstream docket number (Docket 11-109) number where it has accumulated 11,370 filings to date.

So the “Electronic Comment Filing System” in practice does not contain all proceedings with comments just as the “Universal Licensing System” does not contain all licenses. Such data base chaos enables business for consultants such as your blogger who can guide clients through what should be a more straightforward process.

Most of the FCC’s online systems still reflect the early 1990s rushed decisions during the Hundt chairmanship to implement e-filing ASAP with the tools that were available at that time. However, ECFS actually has quirks that go back to its predecessor in the 1980s Fowler chairmanship as a quick fix to the “Mrs. Field’s cookie scandal” of that era. Since these basic design decisions were made FCC has never had the resources to address basic design problems. 8th Floor denizens would rather spend money on fun new projects like the Spectrum Dashboard then get the basic infrastructure working.

Something FCC top management
appears to be unable to do:

Ref rub n pat
We predict that this year’s focus on the incentive auction will reduce the total docket number achieved because top management attention will be focused on that -- just like it was on DTV transition several years ago. No all FCC employees will be working on it, but the long standing (20+ years) management style of FCC is that the top management can not handle the agency’s wide variety of issues when a politically important megaissue is pending. FCC basically can’t “rub its stomach and pat its head” at the same time.

Thus the staff dealing with nonauction issues probably should bring some books to the office to read for the next year because work products requiring 8th Floor attention for approval probably will not get much. While the FCC has great discretion under 47 USC 155(c) to delegate authority to its staff or a subset of commissioners, since the 1930s it has been reluctant to do so. This is why your blogger feels that UK’s Ofcom is more productive than FCC since its commissioner-like board doesn’t have to stick its fingers into every decision -- whether they add value or not.

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