Bipartisan FCC Process Reform Bill Gains Momentum

New version has strong Democratic backing

After three years of going nowhere in the Senate, a bill to reform how the Federal Communications Commission does business may finally get passed, now that it has Democratic backing. 

The Democratic support for a compromise version of the bill was on display today when the House Commerce Committee passed the bill in a voice vote. It will likely reach the House floor at the beginning of the new year and then head for the Senate.

"This bill has been around for three years and this is our best shot. The Senate shouldn't find it menacing," said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a ranking member of the communications and technology subcommittee who worked with chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) on the compromised bill. "This is about the functioning of the FCC in the 21st century."

A long time priority of Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a former broadcaster and chairman of the communications and technology subcommittee, the bill wasn't as strong as the one that passed the House last year

To get broader Democratic support, Walden had to scrap provisions that would have limited the FCC's authority to impose merger conditions on transactions and require the agency to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to pass new rules.

The final bill includes a provision authored by Eshoo that allows more than two commissioners to meet in private, easing a rule that calls for all meetings between commissioners to be held in a public forum. It also requires the FCC to set timelines for its proceedings, create a database for consumer complaints, and asks the FCC to study and issue a report on changing other procedures, like allowing for a way for commissioners other than the chairman to put items on the monthly meeting agenda. Every five years, the FCC will be required to review its rules for possible changes to its procedures.

New FCC chair Tom Wheeler has already shown he's open to change. On his second day as chairman, he started his own initiative to reform the FCC's processes by directing a working group to look into proposals and issue a report in 60 days.