FCC, Net Neutrality
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Republicans and Democrats are pushing competing bills to reform the Federal Communications Commission ahead of a House Energy and Commerce hearing Thursday.

GOP leaders on the committee have taken a more active role in FCC oversight after the agency earlier this year approved controversial net neutrality rules, which are almost universally opposed by Republicans. 

{mosads}Democrats, supportive of the FCC action, are pushing back with their own set of proposals. 

“If the majority’s goal is reform, the minority is prepared to offer constructive reform, not political retribution for the FCC’s net neutrality rules,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, is expected to say. 

One of the GOP bills 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 would force the commission to publish finalized rules the day they are approved. The third proposal would require the commission to publicly list the actions the FCC takes at the staff level.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who leads the committee, maintains the reforms do not touch on the content of previous orders. 

“Transparency at the Federal Communications Commission has been an area ripe for improvement for quite some time,” he is expected to say in opening remarks Thursday. 

The net neutrality debate put some of those transparency issues into sharp focus. Republicans unsuccessfully pushed to get the text of the Internet order released early, due to the large attention surrounding it. The order was publicly released about two weeks after the vote. 

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler declined to break precedent at the time, arguing the agency’s private deliberative process mirrors an appeals court. In prepared remarks Thursday, he will express deep concerns about the GOP bills’ singular focus on the FCC instead of the entire law that governs how federal agencies operate.  

Democrats are similarly against the proposals, saying they would tie the agency in knots. They have floated four smaller changes. 

One Democratic proposal would require the commission to regularly report to Congress on the number of pending decisions and how long they have been open. Another would require the commission to post its policies and procedures online and update changes. 

A bill by Eshoo herself would create procedures to allow the commission to meet in private. A similar proposal has been sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) in the Senate. The final draft bill would require the FCC to explore ways to increase access for small businesses during the rule-making process.

Alongside the competing congressional proposals, the FCC is in the early stages of conducting its own internal review of procedures, after pressure from Republicans and GOP Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who will also testify Thursday. 

O’Rielly is expected to say that while the commission can make reforms of its own, “it would still be helpful for Congress to codify any changes into law.” 

— This post was corrected at 2:05 p.m.

Tags Dean Heller FCC transparency Federal Communications Commission House Energy and Commerce Committee process reform

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