FCC Unveils Long List of Proposals To Improve Agency's Work, Seeks Comment

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By Bryce Baschuk  

Feb. 18 --The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comment on more than 150 initial recommendations the agency has proposed to help make it more effective, efficient and transparent.

The report, released Feb. 14, was requested by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and authored by FCC Special Counsel Diane Cornell. It detailed a plethora of suggestions to improve the ways the agency operates and interacts with stakeholders in the telecommunications marketplace. Generally, it said the FCC could emulate some of the firms it regulates by being more transparent, encouraging greater collaboration across its departments, and utilizing technological tools to make its work more efficient.

Six Goals

The FCC report sought to address six goals, including ways to:

• improve the agency's efficiency and effectiveness,

• rapidly and transparently process items before the agency,

• streamline the agency's processes and data collection,

• eliminate or streamline outdated rules,

• improve interaction with external stakeholders, and

• improve the internal management of the agency.

“Some of the suggestions received are relatively straightforward and can be addressed quickly with current resources,” the report said. “Many of the suggestions would require the commitment of more extensive analysis and resources, and will be addressed as resources allow.”

Backlog Reduction Proposals

The commission should seek to reduce backlogs of pending agency matters and consider employing a “consent agenda” approach to voting on non-controversial commission matters at open meetings, the report said. FCC commissioners are already planning to consider three “consent agenda” orders for applications without individual presentations at the Feb. 20 commission meeting. Bureau chiefs should also seek to submit bi-monthly reports on application backlogs with the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating them, it said.

The report suggested ways to increase coordination among bureaus to set deadlines and prioritize projects, among other actions. Bureaus within the agency should expand their categories of transactions in need of expedited review, such as mergers of geographically adjacent rural carriers, the report said. The executive branch should seek to truncate the time it takes to review foreign ownership issues before the commission and notify the FCC immediately when it has concerns with specific applications, the report recommended.

The FCC should seek to modernize its information technology infrastructure in order to make the commission's work more efficient, the report said. Specifically it said the commission should seek to employ virtual desktops, migrate its systems to cloud-based platforms and improve cybersecurity protections.

The report noted that “rethinking and re-tooling the commission's technology infrastructure would be a far-reaching reform, potentially promising great benefit, but also requiring significant resources to implement.” The commission currently owns more than 200 different IT systems, nearly half of which are over a decade old.

Significant Website Changes

The FCC's public website should undergo significant changes to increase its functionality, especially with regard to its search and navigation functions, the report said. Generally, the report also urged the commission to streamline its document distribution process by reducing or discontinuing paper copies of items and materials.

Consumer complaints can be expedited if the FCC simplifies and automates its current complaint intake process, the report said. The FCC could also mimic the Federal Trade Commission's practice of using consumer complaints to identify trends and emerging marketplace problems, the report recommended.

The report also considered ways to increase the speed and predictability of the agency's rulemaking process. Notices of proposed rulemaking could further be improved if they were shorter, included the proposed text of an order, included economic, technical and enforcement data, and periodic reviews of existing rules, the report said. Other options include greater participation with multistakeholder groups, commission advisory committees, external technical experts and dispute resolution mediators, among others.

Outdated rules, like those with references to the telegraph, should be eliminated, the report said.

Congressional Scrutiny Continues

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said he was pleased that the FCC's recommendations were “closely aligned” with his bill, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act (H.R. 3675), according to a news release. “However, without enshrining these reforms in statute, their future will always be at the whim of whomever may be appointed chair,” he said.

Walden has led the congressional effort to modernize and overhaul the FCC's processes in recent years. On Sept. 9, the House unanimously passed the Federal Communications Commission Consolidated Reporting Act, H.R. 2844, which seeks to combine eight congressionally mandated reports on the communications industry into one biennial marketplace report. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) said in August that the committee is unlikely to mark up a Senate companion bill (S. 1379), which was introduced July 29 by Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

The House has not yet scheduled a vote on H.R. 3675, which would require the FCC to evaluate marketplace data before initiating rulemakings, disclose its decision making processes, create new shot clocks for agency actions and permit a bipartisan majority of commissioners to hold meetings, among other changes. A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) did not respond to Bloomberg BNA's requests for comment.

Interested parties may file comments on the FCC report and the proposed recommendations on or before March 31 via the commission's electronic filing system at http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs2/.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

For more information read the FCC report here: http://www.fcc.gov/article/da-14-199a2.