FCC transparency / expertise questioned – “quite appalling”

A report about an FCC transparency meeting last week:

As a result of the clubby atmosphere of Washington telecom circles, the FCC is considered by some to be one of the most heavily lobbied agencies in the federal government and has been widely criticized for the revolving door that sees departing commission officials land top policy spots at the cable and telecom companies it regulates.

“There’s been concern about undue influence at the FCC,” said Matthew Hussey, a telecom advisor to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). “That really resulted in the erosion of trust with the public with the courts and with Congress.”

Susan Crawford, a former technology advisor to President Obama who currently teaches law at the University of Michigan, put it a little more bluntly.

“Like all independent agencies the FCC is subject to political power,” Crawford said. “To an outsider who has no experience in telecom it’s really quite appalling.”

Schlick and Mary Beth Richards, the special counsel at the FCC who is spearheading the reform effort, noted that the commission recently began a proceeding to reform its ex parte rules, which require disclosures about private meetings or written exchanges with commission staffers. The revised ex parte rules would mandate that anyone who meets with FCC officials disclose the subject of the conversation, rather than simply documenting that the meeting occurred.

“The record would show what was covered in the meeting, and we think that’s very important to reform,” Schlick said.

But that’s small solace to outspoken critics of industry pressure on the commission. Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America, warned that no amount of ex parte disclosure requirements will curb the outsized influence well-heeled firms and trade associations exert on FCC officials.

“Ex parte communications are an affront to democracy. They are simply an insult,” Cooper said. “Why this agency needs to have everything explained to it by an army of industry lobbyists is beyond me.”

The article goes on to note that Olympia Snowe recently introduced a bill to shake up the FCC’s technical staff.