The Regulatory Mix, TMI’s daily blog of regulatory activities, is a snapshot of PUC, FCC, legislative, and occasionally court, issues that our regulatory monitoring team uncovers each day. Depending on their significance, some items may be the subject of a TMI Regulatory Bulletin.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has launched an investigation into the deliberative process of the FCC. In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the Committee said it was concerned about several areas, including the use of delegated authority to decide new or novel questions of law or policy or to circumvent a vote by the full Commission on a controversial matter and the manner and timing of circulation of draft orders and requested information to other Commissioners. The Committee also requested various documents including: (1) information about the practices and processes of the bureaus, divisions, and offices within the FCC relating to the provision of information requested by Commissioners and their staff; (2) information about routine FCC practices and processes including guidance or instruction concerning compliance with the Administrative Procedures Act; (3) instructions or legal opinions provided by the Office of General Counsel relating to the use of delegated authority; (4) the FCC’s policy on the nature and scope of permissible communications between FCC personnel and outside entities; and (5) information relating to FCC staff use of personal email in the execution of official FCC business. The documents must be provided by March 4, 2015.
In a speech before the Federal Communications Bar Association, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn touched on several interesting topics including Lifeline, Inmate Calling Services (ICS), and the upcoming Open Internet/Net Neutrality Order.
On the Lifeline program, Commissioner Clyburn said that a “rebooted Lifeline program, and I don’t mean just adding broadband to the mix, but taking a fresh look at this 30-year-old program, is the most efficient way to truly address those chronic, digital divides.” Noting that she outlined five underlying principles of Lifeline reform last year (See the Regulatory Mix dated 11/14/14), she said she “hoped” the FCC would launch a proceeding this Spring to “bring this program out of the age of shoulder pads and MC Hammer parachute pants, into the digital age, enabling affordable and ubiquitous broadband. I am pleased that the Chairman has announced this as a priority, and look forward to working with all of my colleagues to bring dignity to this program.”
On ICS rates, the Commissioner noted that despite its clear authority to act, the FCC “dragged its feet for over a decade, while families, friends, lawyers, and clergy paid egregiously high and patently unlawful fees to make a simple phone call to and from inmate facilities. No one should wait over a decade for an agency to respond to a petition, and quite frankly, we were negligent for not acting sooner.” She noted that since the FCC acted to restrict ICS rates, call volumes have increased. Nevertheless, she said the FCC “has more to do, to bring relief for interstate as well as intrastate rates and fees, but I hope that we will finally take the baton over the finish line, this summer.” She also cited the long time it took the FCC to exercise its authority under Section 201 of the Communications Act to regulate ICS rates as an example to those who fear rate regulation will inevitably result from reclassification of broadband Internet access as a Title II service. She challenged anyone to “[h]ighlight examples, where the FCC has ruled that a rate is unreasonable in a context other than inmate calling or a tariff investigation over the last decade.”
Addressing the upcoming Open Internet/Net Neutrality rules, she noted that she had previously expressed a preference for regulation under Title II with forbearance and was “pleased to hear how closely” the Chairman’s latest proposal aligned with her prior vision. She declined to provide specifics but did say “it is imperative that the order strikes the right balance, for consumers deserve and need strong open Internet protections and investors need clarity and certainty. And when I say investors here, I include investment in ISPs, edge providers, content creators as well as those developers in garages and on stoops.”