WASHINGTON, D.C. — One of new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai‘s priorities is to make the Commission’s operates more transparent.
On Thursday (2/2), Pai took a big leap forward in changing how open and accessible the FCC is to the public.
It’s in sharp contrast to the FCC under former Chairman Tom Wheeler, whose now-scrapped set-top box proposal and the lack of an NPRM making the details of his plan public served as an emblem of secrecy to many telecommunications industry executives and government lobbyists.
“I want this Commission to be as open and accessible as possible to the American people,” Pai said. “I want us to do a better job of communicating with those we are here to serve.”
Specifically, Pai wants the FCC to have the same level of transparency as a member of Congress, where legislation is soon made available to the general public after a bill is introduced.
“Before any debate begins about the bill, anyone, anywhere can read it,” he said. “That’s not how things work at the FCC. The text of a document that the FCC votes on at its monthly meetings is sent to Commissioners at least three weeks before the vote, but it isn’t released publicly until after the vote takes place. This is precisely the opposite of transparency.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean the contents of an FCC proposal, and orders, remain secret to everyone, Pai points out.
“Lobbyists with inside-the-Beltway connections are typically able to find out what’s in them,” he says. “But, the best that average Americans will get is selective disclosures authorized by the Chairman’s office—disclosures designed to paint items in the most favorable light. More often, the public is kept completely in the dark.”
That stops with the release of a pilot project that, should it be successful, will become a Commission practice — “one that will give the public much more insight into the Commission’s activities,” Pai says.
The pilot program’s launch came with a NPRM that seeks comment on allowing TV broadcasters to use the next-generation broadcast standard, ATSC 3.0, and a Report and Order giving AM radio broadcasters more flexibility in siting their FM translators.
“I have deliberately chosen one NPRM and one Order for purposes of this test run,” Pai said. “Between now and our monthly meeting on Feb. 23, we will closely assess how the process plays out with respect to these items. Should things go well, my hope is to make it the norm to publicly release, well in advance, the text of all agenda items for monthly Commission meetings. My goal is a simple but powerful one: equal access to the administrative process.”
The move is seen as a result of the FCC Process Reform Act, unanimously passed by the House of Representatives last week. The legislation was originally sponsored by House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden and Rep. Adam Kinzinger.
Pai singled out Commissioner Michael O’Rielly “for championing this reform during his time” at the FCC.
PILOT PLAN PRAISED ACROSS D.C.
The circulation of two draft items set for a vote at the FCC’s February Open Meeting was met with positive accolades from many across the Nation’s Capital.
“NAB strongly supports the FCC moving ahead on two proceedings of significant importance to broadcasters – a rulemaking on Next-Gen Television and an AM revitalization order,” said NAB EVP/Communications Dennis Wharton. “Both items will foster technological innovation, increase opportunities for minority and female owners, and create new and unique services for consumers. Chairman Pai deserves credit for departing from the past practice of both Republican and Democratic-controlled Commissions, and publicly releasing the proposals early to inject greater transparency in the FCC rulemaking process. We believe this action will provide greater clarity for stakeholders and greater trust from the public in dealing with the FCC going forward.”
For their part, Rep. Walden and House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a joint statement that “this is the type of transparency we’ve been urging the FCC to implement for the last several Congresses. Then-Commissioner Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly had long pushed for greater transparency during Chairman Wheeler’s tenure, and we are pleased to see that just two weeks into Commissioner Pai’s chairmanship we are already seeing positive changes at the commission.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; along with Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet Subcommittee, and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), sponsor of the FCC Process Reform Act in the upper body of Congress, also chimed in with kudos to Pai.
While Thune applauded Pai for beginning the practice of making public the content of items intended to be voted on at FCC Open Meetings, he said O’Rielly also deserves credit for long advocating for this change.
“After leading an investigation last year into the FCC’s manipulation of information in advance of open meetings, I believe that a more transparent FCC will be more credible and more accountable,” Thune said. “I am pleased that the new leadership is correcting this long-recognized process flaw.”
Heller added, “Transparency should be a cornerstone of government, and the FCC is no exception to this. While the previous leadership at the FCC did not embrace this idea, I applaud Pai for setting an early example in his chairmanship by releasing the text of the rules before the Commission votes and appreciate Commissioner O’Rielly’s commitment to this effort. In Nevada, the technology sectors are rapidly advancing and driving jobs and investment, and as the agency playing a significant role in these industries, the FCC must be accountable to the American public. As the leading advocate for FCC process reform in the Senate, I will continue working to codify this important transparency reform at the FCC.”
— Adam R Jacobson