The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Transparency Needed at the FCC

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


There is a problem with transparency at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) relating to the sharing of information with the public on critical regulatory matters under consideration.

The most recent issue to arise relates to the proposed mandates being considered by the agency regarding set-top boxes.  The notice of proposed rule-making was issued on February 18, 2016, and generated more than 282,000 public comments, many of which raised concerns about the technical mandates as well as problems with copyright infringement on licensed video content.  Alternative plans have been offered by multi-channel video programming distributors (MVPDs), and it appeared that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had redrafted the proposal and scheduled a vote on the final rules at the September 29, 2016 monthly meeting of the commission.

However, the final rule was withdrawn from the meeting agenda and is expected to be taken up at a later date.  The withdrawal of the proposal was a good thing, since news reports about the changes to the proposed rule indicated that they were significantly changed from the original proposal.  The public has not had an opportunity to view or comment on these changes, and it does not appear that the FCC chairman is prepared to disclose what the new proposal includes. 

At this point, the only people who have seen the newly drafted rules are the FCC commissioners and their staff.  Unless Chairman Wheeler releases the new draft, the public will not see the proposal until after it is voted on by the commission as a whole.  Since the vote has been delayed, it provides the opportunity for some sunlight to be shed on the changes to the proposed rule, and for the public to be allowed to review and provide feedback to the commission before it comes to a final vote.  Indeed that is what Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) called for during a September 15, 2016 hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which he chairs, and it is what several civil rights groups have requested in a petition to the FCC on October 2, 2016.

It is high time that all agencies of the federal government become more transparent in the rulemaking process and open about what is being considered before an actual vote occurs to make proposals final.  Taxpayers have a right to know what regulators are planning to impose on them and what impact these new rules will have, before agencies make final decisions; otherwise, this nation will devolve into a dictatorship run by unelected bureaucrats.

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