From Collector: Pulling Back the Curtain

6/16/2017 12:17 PM

The FCC is changing course on its approach to transparency and accountability. Here’s why this could be good for our industry.

Collector MagazineNewsFCC

The Federal Communications Commission has been sporting a new look lately, one it hasn’t had for several years: transparency.

When Chairman Ajit Pai took over the FCC earlier this year, he introduced several procedural changes and took on some pretty controversial initiatives, including net neutrality rules. But it’s his efforts to bring more openness to the FCC that are transforming the way the agency does business, leading to a more inclusive—and fairer—regulatory process, Collector magazine editor Anne Rosso May reports in the June issue.

The report covers the FCC’s political divisions and opacity under the leadership of former Chairman Tom Wheeler, who stepped down when President Donald Trump took office in January 2017. Under Wheeler’s chairmanship, the FCC commissioners were often at odds with each other, divided along party lines, Rosso May reports.

In a recent study, economist Scott Wallsten found that 26 percent of FCC votes on orders were along party lines under Wheeler, compared to just 8 percent under recent Democrat leadership and 4 percent under recent Republican leadership. His partisan divisiveness was well known and even garnered congressional interest.

As a former commissioner in the minority party, now-Chairman Pai experienced firsthand the negative effects of a broken process under Wheeler.

As a result, Pai has been an outspoken critic of the FCC’s partisan split over the years.

Additionally, during Wheeler’s time as chairman—and in fact for decades leading up to it—critics also blasted the FCC for not making rules public until several days or even weeks after the commission voted on them.

For his part, Pai has long complained that the FCC favored opacity over transparency. In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology last year, Pai thanked the subcommittee for focusing on process reform, calling out the FCC Consolidated Reporting Act, which combined seven separate reports into one, as well as the FCC Process Reform Act, which required the FCC to “regularly consider how to maximize opportunities of public participation and efficient decision-making.”

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, the other minority Republican commissioner under Wheeler, has also repeatedly called for increased FCC transparency.

A New Course: Open and Accountable

Pai, a Republican, took the reins at the FCC in January 2017, and just a month later announced his plan to increase the transparency of the commission’s processes and rulemaking.

“I identified many ways of doing that when I served as a Commissioner in the minority, and I want to deliver on those ideas now that I have the privilege of serving as Chairman. I want this Commission to be as open and accessible as possible to the American people,” he said in a February 2017 statement.

Under a new pilot program, the FCC is releasing the full text of documents for discussion at its open meetings to the public as well as commissioners approximately three weeks before the meeting date.

O’Rielly, now a commissioner on the majority side, said in a statement that Pai’s program marks “a major step forward for the agency in terms of transparency and accountability,” noting that if the program goes well “we will all find this to be a significant upgrade in terms of quality of feedback, quality of process, and ultimately quality of the Commission’s work product.”

Looking Ahead

In March, President Trump nominated Pai to serve a second five-year term on the FCC to ensure he will remain on the commission throughout Trump’s presidency.

In June, Trump also announced his intent to nominate Jessica Rosenworcel to serve on the FCC. This move comes several months after the president withdrew her name as a candidate for the open Democratic seat.

Pai’s stated regulatory philosophy for the FCC is built on bipartisan consensus, and he’s noted that “with regard to reaching consensus with my fellow Commissioners, as well as my interactions with Congress, I believe that the Commission is at its best when it proceeds on the basis of consensus and that good communications policy knows no partisan affiliation. As we move forward, I will do my best to hear all points of view—to approach every issue with a literal open door and a figurative open mind.”

In the next featured article in From Collector, learn the importance of strategic planning for businesses.

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