Congress Considers FCC Transparency Reform Bill

Published June 25, 2015

House lawmakers are reviving a bill they say will hold the Federal Communications Commission  (FCC) more accountable to the public and would provide greater congressional oversight.

The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act, introduced by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives during the 2014 legislative session but was blocked by the U.S. Senate.

The bill, now under consideration for a vote before the House, would require FCC to operate in a more transparent manner and order FCC to create procedures for objectively evaluating proposed rules.

Watching the Regulators

Mark Jamison, director of the University of Florida’s Public Utility Research Center, says increasing the transparency of how government regulators operate is a win for everybody.

“For any regulatory agency like the FCC or [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] that’s regulating utilities, utility infrastructure-type services, it is critical for people to be able to see how the regulation process is working so that they have confidence in it,” said Jamison. “[It’s also] critical to keep it from being biased toward some particular stakeholder.”

Need for Regulatory Certainty

Jamison says agency transparency is essential for investors and innovators.

“Without it, you have short-term regulatory policy decision-making that is influencing very long-term investments, and those two planning horizons don’t mix,” Jamison said. “If someone is making a twenty- or thirty-year investment, they need to have confidence that the rules are going to apply for an extended period of time.

“Transparency is how we regulate the regulator,” Jamison said. “We’re able to look over their shoulders and see what they do and how they do it, and that’s our method, one of our methods, of holding them accountable.”

Who Needs Them, Anyway?

Seton Motley, president of Less Government, says FCC has many problems, indicating a need for increased congressional oversight.

Motley is also a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News.

“There’s no transparency, there’s no openness, there’s no ultimate need for its existence,” Motley said. “It’s another politicized entity. They needed to pass the Internet order [mandating net neutrality] before we could find out what was in it.”

‘A Waiter for Google

Motley says FCC’s net neutrality order, approved in May, shows the agency is opaque to most of the public and shows favoritism toward certain stakeholders.

“There was a fabulous example of selective transparency,” Motley said. “No one was allowed to see the order, then Google said they didn’t like part of the order, [saying], ‘We want to change it,’ and the chairman said, ‘Okay, we’ll change it.’

“First of all, what is the chairman? A waiter for Google?” said Motley. “Second of all, how did [Google] know what was in it if we can’t see what’s in it? It’s because it was selective transparency. So when they close the doors on everything, it becomes a crony-fest for whoever actually gets a peek inside the door.”

Amelia Hamilton ([email protected]) writes from Traverse City, Michigan.

Internet Info:

Damien M. Schiff and Luke A. Wake, Texas Review of Law & Politics, “Leveling the Playing Field in David v. Goliath: Remedies to Agency Overreach”: