If you stand outside of the FCC on any given day, you will have the opportunity to witness the great ebb and flow of telecommunications lobbyists (and, admittedly, the occasional public interest representative) streaming inside. These folks are at the FCC to have private meetings to discuss their issues with staffers and Commissioners. Although these meetings are private, there are some rules – called ex parte rules – that require people meeting with Commissioners and Commission staff to write up a summary of what was discussed. These summaries – called ex parte letters – are supposed to let the public know what happened. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, those letters are not always very informative.
PK, the Silicon Flatirons, and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) are hosting a discussion on FCC Reform, entitled: An FCC for the Internet Age: Reform and Standard-Setting. You can watch it right now:
A Conference Hosted by Silicon Flatirons, Public Knowledge and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF).
Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington, DC March 5, 2010, 9:00 AM - 12:15 PM (Light breakfast and registration at 8:30 AM)
Last year, Silicon Flatirons co-hosted events, respectively, with Public Knowledge on FCC reform, and ITIF on innovation economics and new models of governance. This conference is a follow-up and confluence of those two topics: Where do we stand on efforts at FCC reform? And how do new models of governance and standard-setting fit into that reform effort?
Assuming the Federal Government opens for business on Thursday (and I am not taking bets), we can expect to see Genachowski taking another substantial step to make good on his pledge to reform how the FCC does business. The agenda for the Commission's open meeting for Thursday, February 11 lists three items. Two have to do with changing FCC rules to make the agency more open and more streamlined, the third has to do with reforming the E-Rate Program under which schools get money to subsidize broadband.
We can expect that to the extent the press cover this, the focus will go to the E-Rate story. At least people understand about broadband in schools. But for long term difference that matters, the FCC process stories -- while phenomenally boring and unsexy -- have much broader impact.
The first item is a general "housekeeping" item.
It’s been nearly a year since Public Knowledge and the Silicon Flatirons Center held its FCC Reform conference, and the FCC has moved slowly but steadily towards addressing many of the concerns raised at the conference and the paper submitted beforehand.
One of the longstanding problems noted but not generally addressed before in FCC policy has been “how to get the word out to folks not already plugged in as insiders to file comments.” Traditionally, the FCC (like most federal agencies) has taken a very passive attitude. (Indeed, the FCC has traditionally been ahead of the curve. Many federal agencies have made it downright difficult for members of the public to find out what has been going on, or to file comments.)
In the last few weeks, the FCC has taken a number of steps forward on this. It started modestly with Twitter. Then came the the blog, including a video blog of Chairman Genachowski. As if that weren’t enough, last week the FCC launched a slew of social networking and crowdsource tools including an RSS feed, a crowdsourcing platform, and a site to track all the social media tools, such as the FCC’s Facebook and Youtube pages. And, perhaps more important from the perspective of actually considering the public comments, FCC Spokesperson Mark Wigfield stated that comments on the blogs will become part of the official record.
BroadbandCensus.com reports that The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday approved S. 649, the Radio Spectrum Inventory Act, which would give the NTIA and FCC 180 days to present Congress with a complete inventory of the radio frequencies that they manage from 300 Megahertz to 3.5 Gigahertz.
As confirmation hearings go, today’s hearing on the nomination of Julius Genachowski to be the new Chair of the FCC and current Commissioner Robert McDowell to be renominated for a second term could only be called a lovefest. And why not? Both are among the most qualified individuals ever to have been nominated to serve the agency. Perhaps the most controversial exchange was the debate over how to pronounce the Chairman-to-be’s last name (for the record, it’s pronounced Gen-a-kow-ski, not chow-ski).
I attended Comm. McDowell’s talk to the FCBA yesterday as it marked a welcome change from the ancienne regime. In his talk Comm. McDowell said,
“Many of our most valued team members are nearing retirement age. We need to do more to recruit and retain highly-qualified professionals to fill their large shoes. I hope our next budget will give us adequate resources to address this growing challenge.”
This was a noncontroversial statement similar to statements made by many others. But what struck me that here, as in many other issues, FCC never seems to want to address the root cause of the problem and possible long term solutions.
Why are so many people at FCC nearing retirement age?
Acting Chairman Copps has his work cut out for him in addressing the sad mess at FCC these days. An anonymous post to my blog, SpectrumTalk, from an FCC staffer reported on Copps first meeting with the FCC staff,
“When Chairman Copps gave his speech today to the entire FCC staff, before he had said even a word, he was met by thunderous applause. Like Obama with Bush right behind him declared that the country he was receiving was in disarray, Copps made clear that the FCC is in disarray and that things will be changing.”
Copps’ address to the FCC staff is posted on the FCC website and is a great plan for short term action. As he has written to Comm. McDowell, he is limiting his actions during his interim period to allow the new chairman flexibility in making major changes. He has stated that he is removing the unusual barriers between the staff and the other commissioners that were the hallmark of the ancienne regime. He stated,