FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Takes First Step to Rule-Making Transparency

NEWS ANALYSIS: Newly-appointed Ajit Pai is taking the first steps toward taking the secrecy out of the Federal Communications Commission's rule making process.

FCC Rule-Making Notices 2

Admittedly it’s only a test, but if everything goes as expected, the Federal Communications Commission will throw off the veil of secrecy that has always kept the agency’s decision making out of the public's view.

According to an announcement by Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC has begun a pilot program to release to the public the full text of Notices of Proposed Rule Making (NPRMs) at the same time they’re sent to the commissioners, which is about three weeks prior to commission meetings.

“Today, we begin the process of making the FCC more open and transparent,” Pai said in a prepared statement. “We believe that releasing these documents—rather than keeping them behind closed doors until after our vote—will increase the public’s understanding of our decision-making process, and result in final rules that better serve the public interest.”

Previously, commission actions were kept secret and circulated only to the commission members three weeks before a meeting. The public didn’t find out about them until a week before a commission meeting when the commission released a public agenda with few details. The actual text of the action wasn’t made public until after the vote of the commission.

The first two that the FCC released are for fairly non-controversial issues. One is an order allowing television stations to adopt a new type of digital transmission that uses an IP based data stream that would allow, among other things, 4K video using the ATSC (American Television System Committee) 3.0 standard. This standard would also allow data transmission including emergency communications, but it would require those stations to also continue transmitting the older ATSC 1.0 standard that digital television uses today.

The second rule is intended to provide more flexibility in the location of FM signal translators for AM broadcast stations.

In another unprecedented step, Pai wrote an Op-Ed on the web site Medium explaining in detail his plans for various FCC actions coming at the next meeting and to explain his quest to end the internet’s digital divide. It’s worth noting that Pai used the date of his Op-Ed, Feb. 2, to make a number of references to the movie, “Groundhog Day” in which a character relives the same day over and over.

“Today also happens to be Groundhog Day,” he pointed out. “Fittingly, this month’s robust docket features two priorities I’ve touted on a perpetual loop since becoming Chairman: closing the digital divide and removing unnecessary regulations.”

Pai said that he’s planning to eliminate as many mandates and burdensome regulations as possible and do what he can to close the digital divide.

“I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners on this aggressive agenda to connect Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide,” Pai said, “to allow broadcasters to innovate and better serve viewers, and to reduce unnecessary regulations. And Groundhog Day or not, you can expect that I will return to these themes over and over and over again.”

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...