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FCC Workload Report Reveals Progress and Backlogs

The FCC has 1,471,912 pending indecency complaints, with over a third of those - 568,720 -- over five years old.

That is according to a report on the FCC's workload based on FCC-supplied figures and issued by House Energy & Commerce Committee staff in advance of Wednesday morning's hearing in the Communications subcommittee on FCC process reform legislation. The good news is that aside from those indecency complaints, which are pending court resolution of the FCC's indecency regulatory authority, there are virtually no other pending complaints.

The other good news is that under FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the backlog of TV station license renewals has been reduced by 30%. The bad news, the report suggests, is that many of the licenses that have not been renewed may also be held up by those pending indecency complaints.

As of July 5, according to the FCC figures, the FCC had 3,472 open proceedings, 3,213 of which, or 93%, had been dormant for more than two years. But the committee pointed out that since then, the FCC has streamlined its procedures for closing dormant dockets and by Nov. 1 had closed 999, or about a third, of those dockets.

The committee staff called problematic the backlog of 1,385 petitions for reconsideration or applications for review of FCC decisions, with 62% pending for more than two years and 476 for over five years.

The report gives the FCC props for completing transaction reviews within its self-imposed, unofficial 180-day deadline, pointing out that it has hit that mark in 76% of transaction reviewed under Genachowski, up from 52% for the recent past (when the FCC was under more deregulatory Republican chairmen).

But the commission takes a hit for its compliance, or lack of it, with Congressional report deadlines. It points out that the last annual satellite Competition Report came out in 2008, and that its Status of Competition in the Market for the Delivery of Video Programming Report is also several years overdue. It said the FCC has said it would soon deliver a report for 2007-2010, and has argued that it won't be late because Congress did not include a delivery date on that or the satellite report. "[I]t is hard to see how a report delivered every three to four years is ‘annual,'" said the committee staff.

The report concludes that the FCC under Chairman Genachowski has made "significant improvement," but that more needs to be done and that the Republican-backed reform bills could help put good government practices into law.

"This staff report confirms what everyone already knows: Chairman Genachowski has improved many of the processes of the Commission, but there is much work left to be done," said Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who proposed the reform legislation. "That's why it's so important to move forward with process reform legislation now, so that the agency locks in the gains it has already made, and so that the public will see it continue to improve into the future."