Heller Introduces FCC Process Reform Act

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) has introduced a new FCC process reform bill that would require the FCC to publish its orders before voting them.

Republicans in Congress called on FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to publish his proposed network neutrality order before the Feb. 26 vote. Wheeler provided his outline and take on the order in an online op ed and to the press, but declined to publish the text beforehand.

Currently the FCC does not publish them until after votes, sometimes the same day, sometimes days afterward. Those orders are also still subject to editing before publication in the Federal Register.

The bill would also feature a number of reforms Republicans have been pushing for including cost-benefit analysis of regulation and requiring the FCC to identify a market failure or other harm before adopting "economically significant rules."

“In amending the rules, the public will know exactly what the FCC is voting on well before the vote. Right now, we don’t even know what major decision like the FCC’s net neutrality order says," Heller said. "How is that an example of solid rulemaking? The transparency in this legislation delivers a better product for consumers as they will know for certain the cost of regulations to economic growth and whether new rulings are justified based on current problems facing the market.  These are principles that all consumers deserve.”

House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who has spearheaded FCC process reform legislation on his side of the Capitol, praised the bill.

"Reforming and improving operations at the FCC has long been a priority for the committee," he said. "Our efforts have enjoyed broad bipartisan support in the House only to fall short in the Senate. That will change with this new Congress. Unfortunately, many of the issues that triggered our initial review have become more apparent in recent months. The FCC should be an open, transparent, and predictable agency - no matter who is in charge. The American people deserve better and we look forward to working with the Senate and all interested parties in achieving this commonsense goal. We need process reform now more than ever."

According to a summary from Heller's office, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2015 would:

•             "Provide more opportunities for the public to see pending FCC action by publishing the exact rule or amendment to a rule for at least 21 days and by allowing any Commissioner to ask for a vote on any order issued by a bureau."

•             Enhance consistency and transparency in the Commission’s operations by requiring the FCC to establish procedures for: handling extensive new data submitted towards the end of a comment period; adequate review and deliberation regarding pending orders; providing the status of open rulemaking proceedings; and minimum public review periods for statistical reports and ex parte communications.

•             "Empower the Commission to operate more efficiently through reform of the 'sunshine' rules, allowing a bipartisan majority of Commissioners to meet for collaborative discussions subject to transparency safeguards."

•             "Require the Commission to identify a market failure, consumer harm, or regulatory barrier to investment before adopting economically significant rules. After identifying such an issue, the Commission must demonstrate that the benefits of regulation outweigh the costs while taking into account the need for regulation to impose the least burden on society."

•             "Require the Commission to establish performance measures for new program activities so that when the Commission spends hundreds of millions of federal or consumer dollars, Congress and the public have a straightforward means of seeing what bang we’re getting for our buck."

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.