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Barton Bill Would Overhaul FCC

A Top House Republican wants a top-to-bottom procedural overhaul of the Federal Communications Commission to make its processes more transparent and accountable and its decision-making more accessible to the public.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) former chair of the House Commerce Committee and currently its ranking member, circulated the draft of a bill intended to increase public input and improve the decision-making process of the FCC.

The FCC's procedures are currently under investigation by a House oversight committee at the direction of Barton and others, and they came under scrutiny and attack during its lengthy review of the media-ownership rules, including over the release, or lack of it, of media-ownership studies and FCC chairman Kevin Martin's abbreviated comment window for a media-ownership proposal he outlined in an op-ed column in The New York Times.

The bill, which carries the cute title of the FCC Procedural Reform for Openness and Clarity Encouraging Sensible Solutions Act (FCC PROCESS Act), would, among other things, give the public at least 60 days (30 days for comment, 30 for reply comments) to weigh in on any proposed rule change, modification, or deletion. Then the FCC would have to take at least 30 more days to consider the aforementioned changes, modifications or deletions.

Orders following its decisions would have to be published within 30 days of adoption. And if it can't, it will have to inform the chair and ranking members of the House and Senate Energy & Commerce Committees of any delay and the justification for it.

It would also require that all commissioners have sufficient time to review the specific language or any changes to the language of any proposal.

Barton also wants the FCC to set "specific deadlines" for any report, decision, order or action, as well as to establish and publish annually (at least) a schedule of the statistical reports it regularly releases.

The goal, the draft explains, is to: 1) promote decision-making transparency; 2) encourage public comment and make it easier; 3) improve decision-making at public meetings; and 4) improve general work flow.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.