FCC transparency bills released in House

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday released three draft bills aimed at making the Federal Communications Commission more transparent. 

The proposals come a few months following the FCC’s approval of new net neutrality rules, which increased GOP scrutiny of the agency because of the substance and process in which the rules were debated.

“We’ve got a trifecta for transparency,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who heads the subcommittee on communications and technology. 

The bills are being painted as part of the committee’s first reauthorization of the agency in years, an apparent reaction to the net neutrality regulations that Republicans have blasted as unlawful and harmful to the industry. 

One of the bills, sponsored by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), would require the commission to publicly release draft rules three weeks ahead of a vote — at the same time FCC commissioners get a full look at them. Another bill sponsored by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) would force the commission to publish the finalized rules the day they are approved. 

Both proposals harken back to the net neutrality debate. The issue of releasing the rules early became its own story line, as Republicans argued that the huge importance and interest surrounding the rules warranted an exception. Once the commission did approve the rules in a 3-2 vote, it was another few weeks before the public got their first look at them. 

Throughout the debate, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler declined to make an exception to past precedent. He compared the commission to an appeals court, highlighting the importance of private deliberation on draft rules before they are publicly released. 

Kinzinger’s bill would still allow the commission to amend the rules after they are released but before they are voted on. Wheeler has noted, however, that the process could confuse the markets, which might not always understand the technical edits ahead of a vote. 

The third proposal, unveiled Tuesday by Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), would require the commission to publicly list the actions the FCC takes at the staff level. GOP Commissioner Michael O’Rielly previously argued that the chairman uses that power too often, avoiding votes that should come before the entire commission. 

Wheeler and O’Rielly are slated to testify on the three proposals next Thursday. Last month, Wheeler announced the commission would begin an internal review of its procedures under pressure from O’Rielly and others.

Wheeler has said he will not know if any major reforms are necessary until the commission finishes its review.