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FCC Reform Bills

FCC Reform Bills

Politico’s Morning Tech reported Thursday that the release of the text of the already-approved USF order would be delayed probably until next week.  The delay of yet another adopted FCC order in being released to the public makes legislation recently introduced all the more appropriate. 

Wednesday, Rep. Walden and Sen. Heller released legislation aimed at improving agency transparency and process at the FCC.  Although  some interest groups have voiced concern that the proposed reforms on transaction reviews would benefit telecom companies, or overall would curtail the agency’s ability to protect the public interest, the proposals concerning  a cost benefit analysis of regulations are sensible – and desperately needed. 

The reforms, as described in Sen. Heller’s press release, would:

Require the Commission to survey the state of the marketplace through a Notice of Inquiry before initiating new rulemakings to ensure the Commission has an up-to-date understanding of the rapidly evolving and job-creating telecommunications marketplace.

Require the Commission to identify a market failure, consumer harm, or regulatory barrier to investment before adopting economically significant rules. After identifying such an issue, the Commission must demonstrate that the benefits of regulation outweigh the costs while taking into account the need for regulation to impose the least burden on society.

Require the Commission to establish performance measures for all program activities so that when the Commission spends hundreds of millions of federal or consumer dollars, Congress and the public have a straightforward means of seeing what bang we’re getting for our buck.

Apply to the Commission, an independent agency, the regulatory reform principles that President Obama endorsed in his January 2011 Executive Order.

Prevent regulatory overreach by requiring any conditions imposed on transactions to be within the Commission’s existing authority and be tailored to transaction-specific harms.

Identifying an actual market failure a regulation is attempting to address should be a given for policymakers but, unfortunately, the FCC rarely takes that approach. Even if attempts at pre-emptive regulation are well-intended, it is virtually impossible to analyze the effects of a regulation without some measurable outcome.   TPI President Tom Lenard echoed both the need for an identified market problem and a cost-benefit analysis before enacting regulation in comments to the FCC in response to the Open Internet Order NPRM and in comments to the FTC regarding their proposed privacy framework, illustrating that such principles can, and should, apply across regulatory agencies. Recently, Scott Wallsten showed how the FCC could incorporate cost-effectiveness analysis into its decision-making process in the context of universal service reforms.

I’m crossing my fingers that some iteration of Rep. Walden and Sen. Heller’s legislation actually passes.  It’s a great start at sensible, meaningful reform to the agency.

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