Blair Levin: FCC Should Double Up On Monthly Meetings

Day One
(Image credit: Day One)

Blair Levin, former chief of staff to Democratic FCC chairman Reed Hundt, said the next FCC chair can do something on day one to increase transparency at the agency.

While various legislative reforms to the agency, including on comment periods and dockets, have passed a Democrat-controlled House, those reforms did not make it past the Republican-controlled Senate.

That balance of power may change after two Georgia run-off elections that will determine the control of the Senate, but Levin said the FCC does not have to wait to improve transparency and debate on pending actions.

Related: FCC's Pai Institutes Process Reforms

His answer: Add a second monthly meeting. The FCC is required by law to hold at least one of those a month. Levin said a second meeting could be used to tee up items that may be voted on in future meetings. Other commissioners would not be legally bound to attend, but it would be in their interests to be there so they could be part of the discussion, he said.

"Regularly holding fact-based, pre-decisional public meetings would force the FCC chair to be more transparent both about what proceedings are likely to be brought up in the near future and about the direction of those proceedings," he wrote in an opinion piece for the Day One Project. 

"This forward-looking monthly meeting would give the public information needed to provide meaningful input to the Commission prior to its decision-making," he said. "The meeting would also improve the Commissioners’ own ability to respond to policy recommendations."

One complaint from minority commissioners has been they were not given sufficient time to vet proposals before they were expected to vote on them. Levin said the second meeting would include briefings of all commissioners and the public on items at 60 days before a vote. 

The meetings would not include staff recommendations but rather state the problem/issue and range of alternative solutions. Levin, who was chief architect of the FCC's National Broadband Plan, points out that the approach was used "to great effect" during that process.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai did start making public the draft of items FCC chairs have historically circulated to commissioners three weeks before the meeting, a reform Levin acknowledges but does not particularly applaud. 

"[T]this reform has made no practical difference," he said, arguing that three weeks may be enough for lawyers to figure out and weigh in on, "but not enough for the public to digest dense documents and suggest changes."

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.