The FCC Must Fix Its Process For Receiving Public Input Before Driving Ahead

Resources While defending his decision to take jurisdiction over broadband privacy issues from another federal agency, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler proclaimed the FCC “didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.” Perhaps because he had already driven it into the ditch. With this Chairman at the wheel of the FCC, the nation’s expert agency in charge of regulating the Internet, the agency can’t even keep track of public comments filed over the Internet. During its net neutrality proceeding in 2014, the FCC omitted nearly 680,000 comments from its initial data files due to “glitches” in its electronic comment system. As quickly as the FCC is rushing to impose new regulations on Internet privacy and Internet video, one would think the FCC would have solved its problems with receiving public input by now.

anchor Instead, it appears things have gotten worse. Comments aren’t even showing up in the FCC’s electronic system due to a “74,000-comment backup” across all FCC dockets. In the meantime, the public can’t see these comments or attempt to respond to them. If Senator Mike Lee hadn’t asked Chairman Wheeler about the FCC’s information technology problems during a hearing on Wednesday, the public likely wouldn’t have known that the FCC comment systems aren’t working properly. This might not be such a big deal if the FCC weren’t in such a hurry to radically alter the communications policy landscape. For example, in its proceeding to force cable and satellite TV providers to give their programming to Internet companies for free, the FCC’s Media Bureau issued a public notice stating that its staff “will be available for meetings with interested parties to discuss issues raised” in the proceeding on only 5 days, from June 6 through June 10, 2016. That’s not much time to discuss a proceeding that is intended to remake the entire TV industry.

It should be no surprise that the FCC attributes its massive comment backlog in part to this proceeding. What did the agency expect when it gave a clear signal that you’d better speak now or it’ll be too late?

Such cavalier treatment of the public’s right to comment in an agency proceeding is poor process under any circumstances, but it’s especially galling when the agency has been on notice of the problem for nearly 2 years and still hasn’t fixed it.

Budget certainly isn’t the problem. FCC spending on its IT systems has gone way up under the current Administration. The FCC spent twice as much taxpayer money on IT each of the last 2 years than the agency spent in 2008, the last year of the Bush Administration.FCC IT Spending

Where has all that money been going? And why is the FCC pushing so hard to enact new regulations when its systems aren’t giving the public an opportunity to provide meaningful input?

The public deserves answers to these questions, but answers alone aren’t enough. The FCC needs to stop treating the public like turnips. It needs to wait until its systems are fixed and provide an additional opportunity to comment in the affected proceedings before driving ahead with new regulations.

One Comment

  • Mark J. says:

    the new team has only been there for a while however the difference is night and day. please don’t blame them for what happened before 2014, they are trying to engage stakeholders and get off increasingly expensive legacy systems. what they did with the new consumer help desk and the new website refresh in 2015 is a sign of more to come, and they have been actively prototyping the new ecfs with the public able to give feedback live.

    also the glitch you report from most news articles was on the group who tried to submit’s side not fcc.