Communicating at the FCC Off-Tape?

Lawmakers from both parties want to let Federal Communications Commission members meet behind closed doors to speed decisions at an agency that sometimes mulls rules for years.

Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, today introduced the FCC Collaboration Act. A day earlier, Reps. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, and John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican, introduced a House version of the bill.

Current law prohibits more than two FCC commissioners from talking to each other outside of an official public meeting. The restriction has harmed collegiality and cooperation, according to the Senate bill.

“I have always been a supporter of ending this ridiculous FCC rule,” Shimkus said in a news release.

The prohibition hinders the ability of the FCC to have a substantive exchange of ideas, according to the Senate bill. Commissioners rely on an inefficient combination of written messages, communications among staff, and a series of meetings restricted to two commissioners, according to the bill.

Under the proposed language, three or more of the FCC’s five commissioners may meet in private, and the group must include at least one member of each party. They must disclose the meeting and its topic within two business days.

“We could respond better and more quickly to everyone with business before the FCC, from broadcasters in Illinois to technology companies in California,” Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican, said in an e-mailed statement. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, said the bill would bring a “welcome and very productive improvement” to FCC guidelines, according an e-mailed news release issued by Eshoo. The bill is silent on current voting practice at the agency. Commissioners may adopt orders without a public meeting, casting votes in private via computer.

The bill has been assigned numbers H.R. 539 and S. 245. Eshoo filed a similar bill in the last Congress and it died without a vote.

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