The Federal Communications Commission and FCC Rulemaking
Consisting of numerous bureaus and offices, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the main government agency in the field of communications, including radio and broadcast and cable television. The FCC is an independent agency with five commissioners who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The chairman, who is chosen for that role by the President, and the other commissioners serve five-year terms in most situations. To prevent conflicts of interest, a commissioner cannot have a financial stake in any business related to the work of the FCC. No more than three commissioners can represent the same political party at one time.
The FCC holds both legislative and enforcement powers. For example, it creates regulations to govern the media industry, reviews applications for licenses, responds to complaints, and conducts investigations. More broadly, the FCC fosters competition and innovation, while bolstering the security of the communications infrastructure in the US.
FCC Rulemaking Procedures
Congress provides the FCC with varying grants of authority to make rules. A grant of authority may give the agency substantial discretion, such as its authority over issuing broadcast licenses. In other situations, Congress may grant the FCC narrow authority to issue rules that further a specific goal. For example, the FCC needed to meet a certain deadline in completing the transition from analog to digital television broadcasting.
If a rule involves legally binding rights or obligations for the agency or the public, the FCC usually must go through the "notice and comment" rulemaking process provided by the Administrative Procedure Act. Notice and comment involves providing notice to the public that the agency is considering creating a new rule, modifying an existing rule, or repealing an existing rule. Interested members of the public are invited to provide comments on the proposed rule, modification, or repeal. The agency usually provides at least 30 days for comments, or longer for complex issues. The FCC then reviews the comments and any reply comments that respond to initial comments. It may modify or rewrite the proposed rule, proceed as initially planned, or halt the rulemaking process.
Triggers for FCC Rulemaking
Congress directs the FCC to make a rule or to start the rulemaking process
The FCC finds a problem that affects consumers, observes an issue with enforcing an existing rule, or receives many requests to clarify a rule or grant an exemption from a rule
Evolving technology requires a change to a rule
Any member of the public can submit a petition for rulemaking, which asks the FCC to create, modify, or repeal a rule; the FCC can decide whether to follow up
Non-Legislative Rulemaking by the FCC
In addition to legislative (legally binding) rules, the FCC creates three other types of rules. Notice and comment procedures generally do not apply to these rules. First, the FCC may create interpretive rules, which clarify federal laws or regulations administered by the agency. In addition, the FCC may issue policy statements that describe its plans for using its discretionary authority in a certain area. If it plans to aggressively enforce a certain rule, it might discuss the penalties that it will assess for violations of that rule.
Finally, the FCC may issue organizational or procedural rules. These affect the internal structure of the FCC and its decision-making process. An organizational rule might assign the responsibility for overseeing a certain area to a specific bureau or office within the agency. A procedural rule might provide a deadline for submitting comments.