FCC Reform: No longer If, But How

Yesterday's Public Knowledge - Silicon Flatirons conference entitled "Reforming the Federal Communications Commission" brought together former Chairmen, Commissioners and staff members of the agency, along with other experts. They provided perspectives on the agency and how it has operated in the past, how it operates currently, and how it might operate in the future. The consensus was clear – the FCC has serious procedural, organizational and cultural problems and is long overdue for an overhaul.

A lot of great ideas for reform came out of the conference, and they revolved around a number of themes. It is hard to fit them into clear categories, so I will simply lay them out. The was general agreement that a healthy FCC must

  • make policy decisions based on objective data and facts, not ideology and industry-purchased data;

  • engage in more strategic planning and be forthright about its policy goals;

  • restore procedural fairness, including, but not limited to stopping abuses of the ex parte rules, making sure Notices of Proposed Rulemaking actually propose rules, and issuing texts of decisions on the day the item is voted upon;

  • be more transparent in two ways: first, it must give the public more information about what decisions it is making, how it is making them and why; and it must allow for the public to have more meaningful input into the policymaking process. The former might necessitate revision of the Government in Sunshine Act, which requires public notice and a public meeting anytime more than two Commissioners meet at one time.

  • be reorganized into functions, not into technological silos;

  • be staffed with people whose mission is to promote the public interest, not to get a high paying job with industry;

  • be staffed with a diversity of expertise (e.g., more economists, technologists and real business people) and cultural experiences);

  • rely more on adjudication in enforcement matters where there are facts in dispute;

  • better balance the power between the Chair and the Commissioners;

  • develop and empower staff in a way that restores morale and makes them feel like vital players in the operation of the agency;

  • lead, listen and learn, particularly through input by the academic community;

  • ensure that every staff member has a clear role that promotes the agency's policy goals; and

  • promote innovation.

While these are all great outcomes, how to actually achieve these reform goals is a much harder question. Our hope is that we can get some ideas from you at the new website we have set up to provide information and solicit input on how to improve the FCC. We plan on submitting those suggestions to the appropriate authorities in the new administration.

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