FCC's O'Rielly: Let My People Know!

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly wants the FCC to change its rules and start publishing on its website the actual text of items to be considered at open meetings at the same time the commissioners get it.

"Therefore, as soon as bureau staff sends the “8th Floor” a draft for consideration, the Commissioners are not allowed to reveal the substantive decisions with outside parties," said O'Rielly in a blog posting. "In other words, at the very moment that I learn the particulars of an important rulemaking upon which I will spend the next few weeks in ex parte meetings listening to stakeholder concerns, I am not permitted to disclose any details of the draft text in order to extract more thoughtful responses."

He concedes there is a caveat to discussing the text of those items with outside parties, but at the discretion of the chairman and not necessarily all parts of an item. He points out that that has drawn criticism about preferential access, citing a 2007 GAO report on ensuring equal access to FCC rulemakings.

Moreover, he says, the inability of the public to obtain a complete picture of what is in a pending proposal or order leads to routine confusion over what exactly is at stake.

He suggested the dribs and drabs approach of gleaning info from blog posts, press accounts and staff briefings "can lead to more questions than answers."

O'Rielly praised efforts by Chairman Tom Wheeler to reform FCC process and said this change should be part of the package.

"As with any written document, the more reviews a regulatory item receives before going out the door, the better. Empowering the public with the actual text could push the agency to ask better questions (including on the costs and benefits of proposed rules), fine tune its wording to prevent unintended consequences, and obtain useful suggestions before the final rules are locked in," he said.

O'Rielly and his Republican colleague, have not been so happy with FCC processes lately. Both have complained about process, including not getting information until shortly before meetings or not being in the loop or having their input reflected in the final language. 

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.