The FCC’s Failure to Communicate

In a recent article at The Daily Caller, Josh Peterson relays the surprising data that The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is one of the most secretive agencies in the Obama administration. During a House appropriations subcommittee hearing, Rep. Mario Diaz Balart pointed out that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were rejected far more than other agencies you might think would be far ahead of the FCC, including the CIA and Homeland Security. According to data gathered from FOIA.gov, in 2010 the FCC rejected FOIA requests 48% of the time, higher than the CIA’s 0.7% or Homeland Security’s 0.2% rate.

Complaints about FCC secrecy aren’t exactly new. For the past few years, as the FCC has taken on such contentious issues as Net Neutrality, complaints have come from both sides of the aisle about the secrecy of the FCC and it’s cozy relationships with outside groups. In mid-2010, the FCC was holding closed door, secret meetings with tech companies and their representatives, including with companies both opposed and for net neutrality regulations. The advocacy group Public Knowledge issued a statement saying:

“Discussions of the authority of the FCC over broadband, or network neutrality can cover a wide range of topics at any given time, whether dealing with legislation or not.  To have ideas put forward by advocates, whether corporate or public interest, kept from the public, is not the way this FCC should do business.

“The FCC is an independent regulatory agency and should conduct itself accordingly. It should render decisions on current docketed proceedings based on the record before it.”

These meetings were in stark contrast to the promises of the FCC and Chairman Genachowski at the start of the tenure, as he promised a fair, open and transparent FCC. There have been other instances of secrecy and misdealings by FCC commissioners as well. In 2010, FCC Commissioner Copps was found to be collaborating with staff members from the liberal advocacy group Free Press. Free Press requested that Copps write an OpEd, which he gladly did. Free Press then placed it in the proper media outlet for Copps. It was another instance of what many critics point out is a cozy relationship that those in the FCC have with advocacy groups and technology companies that they’re tasked with overseeing. In issue after issue, Genachowski has taken heat from both Republicans and Democrats over the commission’s lack of information being release on proposed plans and rule changes.

Much of the evidence seems to point towards the FCC having an atmosphere that lacks transparency and openness. The latest data coming from FOIA.gov only seems to reinforce this.  A former member of President Obama’s Justice Department has pointed out that claims of progress by the administration are overblown and distorted. If President Obama’s promise of his administration being “the most open and transparent in history” is to be realized, the FCC could have serious work ahead of itself.

Zack Christenson writes on tech issues for the American Consumer Institute.

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