New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is pulling down the screen between the FCC and the public.
Pai on Thursday announce the launch of a pilot program that would make the text of forthcoming items up for vote before the Commission available to the public well in advance of the meetings where their fate will be decided.
Traditionally, the FCC said draft proposals of rules, reports, and orders are circulated internally to commissioners three weeks before the Open Meeting where they will be discussed. However, the documents have hitherto not been made available to the public until after the final vote. Pai, though, wants to change that, saying the FCC should “do a better job of communicating with those we are here to serve.”
In a pilot of this effort, Pai released the full text of two proposals – including a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to authorize the use of ATSC 3.0 Transmissions for broadcast TV and a Report and Order that gives AM radio broadcasters more flexibility in siting their FM translators – on the agenda for February’s Open meeting.
“Today, we begin the process of making the FCC more open and transparent,” Pai commented. “I’m pleased to announce this morning a pilot project that, if successful, will become a Commission practice—one that will give the public much more insight into the Commission’s activities.”
Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly acknowledged the change could make the FCC’s job more challenging – presumably in the case of contentious items – but voiced his support for the move, calling it a “major step forward for the agency in terms of transparency and accountability.”
However, the two drafts released to the public Thursday represented just a fraction of the six items on the FCC’s February agenda. Two other items up for a vote later this month include a Universal Service Reform Report and Order that would adopt rules for ongoing support for mobile broadband via the Mobility and Connect America funds, and an Order extending and expanding the Small Business Exemption from the Open Internet Order’s enhanced reporting requirements. The text of those items has not been released.
Last month, though, Pai indicated the latter exemption order would grant a five-year waiver to broadband Internet access service providers with 250,000 or fewer broadband connections from the enhanced reporting requirements adopted in the 2015 Title II Order.
And in a Thursday blog post, Pai explained the former move on Universal Service Reform will involve redirecting Mobility Fund money – which he said was some $25 million the government spends “to subsidize wireless carriers in areas where private capital has been spent building out networks” – to support 4G LTE service buildouts in rural America.
“I am proposing to couple our detailed coverage data with a robust challenge process to identify the areas most in need of service,” Pai said. “And I propose using a competitive ‘reverse auction’ to allocate this support to preserve and extend 4G LTE coverage throughout our nation.”
Similarly, Pai said the Order will look to direct some of the Connect America Fund’s $2 billion to support deployments of fixed broadband in unserved rural areas via a reverse auction system.
Filed Under: Industry regulations