FCC Process Reform Bill Passes House

A Republican-backed FCC reform bill passed the
House 247 to 174 Tuesday, but is expected to go no further given the opposition
by the White House and the signal from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay
Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) that he has no plans to bring up a Senate version.

bill would limit the conditions the FCC could put on mergers, require it to do
cost-benefit analysis and market impact analysis on its regulations before
adopting them, with those reviews reviewable by a court. It would put shot
clocks on FCC decisions -- no more dockets open for years -- and extend comment
periods to 60 days (the FCC now has discretion over the length) and require
that the FCC publish the language of decisions they vote on and release
decisions in a timely manner.

House vote came after lengthy debate of the defeat or withdraw of various
amendments. Those included one that would have required anyone buying political
ad time to disclose in TV station and cable operator political files the names
of any parties that contributed more than $10,000 toward the campaign. The
amendment, from Democrat Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) was an effort to provide more
disclosure for the direct ad funding made possible by the Supreme Court
Citizens United decision.

debate on the House floor mirrored, and featured many of the same players, the
debate in the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Subcommittee Chairman Greg
Walden (R-Ore), who sponsored the bill, argued that the bill was modest reform
that applied the spirit of the President's executive order to government
agencies on regulation cost-benefit analysis to the FCC, which is an
independent agency and not bound by the order. The FCC has already said it
would follow that spirit, and Walden gave FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski props
for "really excellent" regulatory reforms. But he said a future
chairman could wipe those away.

along with Henry Waxman, the bill's most high profile opponents, said it would
gut the FCC by requiring onerous new process requirements that would result in
a less effective agency. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) former chairman of the
Telecommunications (now Communications) Subcommittee, and a famed phrase-turner,
said the bill would create the "Fully Constrained Commission," and
said it would be the Republicans' first jobs bill, since it would create jobs
for lawyers and lobbyists.

said that the bill was not process reform but, "a fundamental assault on
the FCC's ability to protect the public interest." He also said the fact
that it subjected the FCC's regulatory justifications -- like cost-benefit and
market analyses -- to judicial review meant that it could paralyze the FCC.

John Dingell (D-Mich.) chairman emeritus of Energy & Commerce called it a
bad bill that does nothing to reform anything."

said she opposed the bill "even though there are some parts that I
support." The reference was likely to her sunshine amendment, which
Republicans voted to approve in committee. That would allow more than two
commissioners to meet outside of public meetings so long as one of each party
was represented and no official business was conducted. The idea is that
commissioners wouldn't have to meet by proxy through staff members when they
want to talk out an issue.

Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell praised the
bill. "We applaud Chairman Walden for his leadership in securing U.S.
House approval of this important FCC reform legislation which will promote
greater transparency and predictability in Commission decision making," he
said. "The U.S. telecommunications
marketplace is a dynamic sector that is providing consumers with an endless
array of competitive products and services that are transforming commerce,
communication and education.  The regulatory framework envisioned by this
reform legislation will ensure that private enterprise can continue to invest
and innovate with more consistent and precise federal government oversight.
We'll look forward to working with members of the House and Senate on these
important issues."

National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners was not ready to
endorse the bill in its entirety, but it liked what it liked. "While NARUC has
not taken a position on every section in this legislation," said the
group, "we commend the House for moving several important reforms forward.
The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act contains numerous
bipartisan proposals that will increase transparency and streamline the
agency's operations. We thank Chairman Walden and agree with him that FCC
Chairman Genachowski has taken several steps to improve the way the agency

the bill requires the FCC to release specific language in proposed rules for
public comment within a reasonable timeframe. The legislation also makes the
important work of our several Federal-State joint boards and conferences far
more efficient, allowing us to address critical consumer issues in a more
timely fashion. Both of these sections are bipartisan and signal an opportunity
to improve the FCC's operations, an opportunity that should not be missed."

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.