House E&C Passes FCC Reform Bills

The House Energy & Commerce Committee passed several bills out of committee Thursday, including a trio effecting FCC process reforms and one a prominent Democrat said would throw sand in the FCC's gears.

H.R. 2592, from Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) would require the FCC to publish the draft of "a rulemaking, order, report or any other action" 21 days before a vote or not later than 24 hours after it is circulated. It would not preclude changes after that but would let the public know what the chairman was proposing.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has been sharing some of the main points of a number of circulated-but-not-voted items via blogs, bullet points and press briefings with officials, but the Republicans argue that is a spin zone and they have no similar opportunity.

That bill drew the most attention from Democrats, with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) leading the opposition. It eventually passed 30 to 22 along straight party lines. Eshoo said the bill was not about transparency, but instead "transparency for lobbyists," and "throws enormous sand in the gears so the FCC will never get anything done." She said it would create an unending cycle of comments.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler agreed with Eshoo. Asked about committee passage at an FCC press conference Thursday, Wheeler said it would be the "lobbyist, come on down" act as the FCC would put something out, then get comment, then put out another iteration, and have to get comment.  "It becomes a hamster wheel of endless racing around, leading nowhere." He said it was a "great opportunity for lobbyists to invade the commission and send bills [presumably he meant invoices rather than legislation] to their clients."

The other two bills were noncontroversial, said a committee spokesperson, and passed by voice vote.

H.R. 2589, proposed by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) would require the FCC to publish on its website any changes to a rule no later than 24 hours after adoption and new rules no more than 24 hours after a dissenting statement is filed.

H.R. 2593, from Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) would require the FCC to identify on its website items decided on delegated authority—decided at the bureau level rather than by a commissioner vote.

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.