House Subcommittee Considers Bills on FCC Transparency Following Net Neutrality Criticism

A subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon was scheduled to consider seven bills or draft legislation to improve transparency at the Federal Communications Commission.

The 81-year-old FCC has endured criticism for not being as open with its proceedings as it should. The critique over transparency recently spilled over to the FCC’s vote in February to adopt Net neutrality regulations that are currently mired in litigation. In late February, two FCC commissioners asked leadership to delay the Feb. 28 vote and release the Net neutrality proposal to the public, but FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler declined to accommodate their requests.

“Members on both sides of the aisle have questioned lapses in process, such as unexplained delays in disposition of matters, unequal access to information, unusual procedures, and the exercise of discretion on the part of FCC Chairmen,” according to a May 18 memo circulated by Committee majority staff. “While the FCC has sought to reform itself, Congressional action is the appropriate solution for establishing reasonable parameters to ensure a transparent process.”

The various bills are being discussed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. One of the bills would require the FCC to publish a draft rulemaking when it is circulated to the commissioners for a vote. Another piece of legislation would require the FCC to publish new regulations the same day they are adopted.

In a statement during an April 30 hearing before the House communications subcommittee, Wheeler said he opposed a number of bills aimed at greater transparency.

“In my judgment, they would hurt, not help, the Commission’s work and mission,” he said. “Rather than cut bureaucratic tape, they would add new layers. That is not to say the Commission cannot do better. It can, and I am determined that it will.”

Wheeler cited the Open Internet Order, or Net neutrality regulations, as an example of the FCC’s transparency. The FCC said it received around four million public comments before finalizing the regulations.

“The Open Internet rulemaking was one of the most open and expansive processes the FCC has ever run,” Wheeler told lawmakers, “contrary to what some commentators have claimed.”

Some lawmakers have expressed a different view.

In a Feb. 23 letter addressed to Wheeler, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) expressed disappointment that the chairman declined to participate in a Net neutrality hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ahead of the scheduled vote on the Internet regulations.

“Throughout this process, the FCC has failed to establish the appearance this rulemaking is independent, fair, and transparent,” Chaffetz wrote. “Although arguably one of the most sweeping new rules in the Commission’s history, the process was conducted without using many of the tools at the Chairman’s disposal to ensure transparency and public review.”

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