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Bill Introduced to Reform Commissioner Interaction

Current “Sunshine Rule” prohibits non-public discussions by more than two commissioners

No one would disagree that the FCC’s process for making a decision is pokey.

Lawmakers have introduced a bill that they hope will speed up the commission’s decision-making style.

Currently the so-called Sunshine Rule prohibits nonpublic discussions by more than two commissioners.

The FCC Collaboration Act reintroduced this week would allow private talks by more than two commissioners on an issue as long as no agency action is taken.

Out of a group of three commissioners, for example, at least two must be from different political parties and an attorney from the FCC’s Office of the General Counsel must be present. The agency would have two days after the meeting to disclose attendees and a summary of what was discussed.

Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), and Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) are co-sponsors in the House while Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) are co-sponsors in that body.

The text of the bill notes: “Commissioners have relied primarily on an inefficient combination of written messages,” staff communications and a series of meetings limited to two commissioners each “to discuss complex telecommunications matters pending before the commission.”

The current situation has “harmed collegiality and cooperation” at the agency, according to the sponsors.

“We must be as nimble as the communications industry we oversee,” said FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who believes the bill would help the agency reform the way it conducts its business. “In particular, we have heard that — to quote the act —“[n]umerous regulatory matters have been pending before the commission for years, and continued inaction on these issues has the potential to hinder innovation and private investment in the domestic communications industry.”

Public Knowledge lobbyist Christopher Lewis echoed the commissioner, adding the groups hopes that if passed, “We don’t want to see fewer public hearings or a less transparent FCC.”

In 2009, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) tried to fix the Sunshine Rule.