House votes for more transparency at the FCC

The House voted Tuesday to require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate more transparently, including by ensuring public input on regulations.

The bill's author, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), said the bill is partially a response to a proposed FCC rule to study the editorial decisions of newspapers. That proposal drew harsh criticism late last year, and Walden said it was a "dangerous" outcome that threatened the First Amendment rights of these papers.

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"Somehow, an item as controversial as this study made it all the way through the FCC without so much as a commission vote," Walden said during floor debate. "Americans deserve greater… transparency and accountability from their government."

But the bill has been in the works for more than a year, as House members have pushed for a better process from the FCC for some time now. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said recently that he would move to operate more transparently, but Walden said today that legislation is still needed.

"While agency process has improved under recent chairmen, this legislation will ensure the reforms remain in place from one administration to the next," Walden said.

The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act, H.R. 3675, would let the FCC set its own transparency guidelines, but would require annual reports from the agency on how closely it's meeting these guidelines. It would also require the FCC to use formal notice and comment procedures when writing rules, and would establish minimum time periods for comments.

The bill passed in an easy voice vote, after a brief debate in which Democrats said they supported Walden's efforts to reach a compromise on an FCC bill. Walden chairs the House Energy & Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

"The FCC is charged with overseeing industries that make up one-sixth of our national economy," said Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who added that these companies are innovators that provide new products and services to consumers each year.

"With a mission this critical, both Democrats and Republicans believe that the FCC must be efficient, transparent and accountable," he said.