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House Commerce Committee Hearing July 11 on “Improving FCC Process”

On July 11 The House Commerce Energy and Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will have a hearing on “Improving FCC Process”. The hearing will discuss two draft bills. One panel of witnesses will testify:

1. Stuart M. Benjamin, Douglas B. Maggs Chair in Law and Associate Dean for Research, Duke Law
2. Larry Downes, Internet industry analyst and author, including
The FCC's Unstructured Role in Transaction Reviews
3. Robert M. McDowell, former FCC Commissioner and Visiting Fellow, Hudson Institute
4. Randolph J. May, President, Free State Foundation
5. Richard J. Pierce Jr., Lyle T. Alverson Professor of Law, George Washington University Law School
6. James Bradford Ramsay, General Counsel, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners

The subcommittee plans to reintroduce two bills that passed the House last Congress: H.R. 3309, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act, and H.R. 3310, the Federal Communications Commission Consolidated Reporting Act. These bills aim to minimize the potential for procedural failings and abuse, and to improve agency transparency, efficiency, and accountability. The hearing will focus on discussion drafts of the two bills in anticipation of reintroduction.

The Federal Communications Process Reform Act passed the House in March 2012 by a 247-174 vote. To avoid micromanaging the agency, many of the provisions simply require the Commission to set its own process rules and then live by them. Among other things, the bill asks the FCC to examine the state of technology and the marketplace and conduct cost-benefit analyses before regulating; to publish the actual text of proposed rules; to afford commissioners, parties, and the public an adequate opportunity to review proposals; to publish its decisions promptly; and to evaluate whether adopted rules are meeting their purpose. It asks the FCC to create “shot clocks” so parties and the public have a sense of when issues will be resolved. To minimize the potential for abuse of transaction reviews, the bill would require any conditions to be narrowly tailored to transaction-specific harms and otherwise within the agency’s jurisdiction. To facilitate negotiation, the bill would reform the “Sunshine Act” to allow three or more commissioners to gather on a bipartisan basis.

(The above summary prepared by the subcommittee staff omits another change that modifies the Government in Sunshine Act and allows nonpublic meetings of commissioners. As this blog has previously pointed out, some closed meetings are permitted under the present law but there have only been 2 closed meeting in the past 16 years. This implies that there is a deeper problem than the Government in Sunshine Act that is not being addressed.)

The Federal Communications Consolidated Reporting Act passed the House in May 2012 on a voice vote. It seeks to relieve burdens on the agency and make reports more meaningful. By eliminating outdated studies and consolidating the ones that remain into a biennial release, the Commission will be more efficient and can provide more useful information. The draft also proposes a “State of the Industry” report, focused on the challenges and opportunities in the marketplace as well as the chairperson’s plan of action.

A subcommittee staff memo gives a detailed discussion of the proposed changes. Here is a link given for the video.
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