GOP senator pushes for early release of FCC regulations

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) is pushing legislation aimed at forcing the Federal Communications Commission to release regulations before they are brought up for a vote, including the controversial proposal for net neutrality.

Heller’s bill, which would make a number of process reforms at the agency, includes a provision to force the commission to seek comment on whether to publish the text of regulations when they are privately circulated among commissioners. 

The issue has gained increased attention in recent weeks, as Republicans pressed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to publicly release the text of controversial net neutrality regulations ahead of the vote on Feb. 26. 

“In amending the rules, the public will know exactly what the FCC is voting on well before the vote,” Heller said in a statement. “Right now, we don’t even know what major decision like the FCC’s net neutrality order says. How is that an example of solid rulemaking?” 

The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act would also direct the agency to establish rules to create minimum timeframes for rule-making, publish orders in a timely fashion and allow for nonpublic meetings, among other things. The bill would also require the commission to create performance measures to go along with rules that involve $100 million or more. 

Heller, a member of the Commerce Committee, has introduced similar proposals in the last two Congresses. A similar bill passed the House last year but did not receive a vote in the Senate. 

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who previously sponsored the House legislation, applauded the bill. Walden leads the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. 

“Reforming and improving operations at the FCC has long been a priority for the committee,” Walden said. “Our efforts have enjoyed broad bipartisan support in the House only to fall short in the Senate. That will change with this new Congress.”

The FCC chairman privately circulates rules among his four other commissioners three weeks ahead of a vote. While the commission generally releases broad details of the orders, the text is not published until after a vote takes place. 

The Republican leaders of the House and Senate Commerce committees pressed Wheeler to publicly release the regulations early, due to the increased public attention they received, but Wheeler declined.

“If decades of precedent are to be changed, the there must be an opportunity for thoughtful review in the lead up to any change,” Wheeler said.

One Republican Commissioner, Michael O’Rielly, has said withholding the rules leaves a certain amount of confusion during meetings with stakeholders who don’t know the exact details. Commissioners are also restricted in what they can say about the rules. O’Rielly has previously endorsed Heller’s legislation. 

— Updated 11:55 a.m.

Tags Dean Heller FCC transparency Federal Communications Commission

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