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NCTA Offers FCC-ReformIdeas to Obama Transition

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has provided President-elect Barack Obama's transition team with some suggestions for how to reform the FCC and remedy its current "process breakdowns." 

That came in a letter to Susan Crawford, who is helping head up the vetting process at the agency for the transition. The letter, in turn, was in response to a meeting between Crawford and other transition team members and industry stakeholders last month in Washington.

(NCTA released the letter the same day that Obama proposed Nancy Killefer from McKinsey & Co. as the nation's first Chief Performance Officer. She will be charged with meeting with government agencies to make them more efficient, transparent and accountable.)

The transition team asked for any ideas on how to reform the FCC, and NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow had plenty of them.

In broad strokes, he asked for swifter action that kept pace with the "blistering rate" at which technology changes; more transparency and public input rather than "gaming by regulators or privileged insiders"; decisions based on facts; and regular rule modifications to keep up with that blistering pace.

Pointing out that the concerns are shared by some members of Congress, McSlarrow said specifically that the commission should draw clear distinctions between notices of inquiry (NOIs) and notices of proposed rulemaking, including confining broad inquiries with no tentative conclusions to the former category. Then, at whatever point a rulemaking is actually proposed, providing plenty of notice to the public and opportunity to comment.

McSlarrow would like to formalize FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's "informal" practice of providing public notice when items are circulated among the other commissioners for a vote. He also suggested that agendas for public meetings be set three months in advance, rather than the current three weeks, and texts of the actual rule or decision made public at the same time. Currently,the chairman walks reporters through the broad strokes of the decisions about three weeks beforehand.

McSlarrow says the FCC should not act on items based on last-minute filings, and reports should be available in draft form for public comment before the bureau votes on them.

To help it act in a timely fashion, McSlarrow recommends a 180-day shot clock on waiver requests, and asks the commission to do a better job of holding to the informal 180-day clock it set for merger reviews. He also wants texts of FCC orders released within 30 days of adoption.

The current FCC processes were the subject of an investigation and House Energy & Commerce Committee Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee report last month that was highly critical of the agency's operation, though only the Democrats on the subcommittee signed off on the report.

McSlarrow also outlined suggestions for boosting broadband, which included recognizing and even helping underwrite the need to reclaim analog channels to free up bandwidth for faster broadband service. He said the new administration policies should "resist placing new demands and constraints on bandwidth use that are totally divorced from what consumers want: faster broadband, more high-definition content, and the deployment of new innovative and interactive services that take advantage of our two-way network."