Open Government Rules Are the Best Moves by New FCC Chairman

There will be plenty for partisans to fight about in the next four years. Openness, fairness and transparency in government should not be one of them. Last week, newly appointed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced several process changes at the agency. They include providing his colleagues with a copy of items scheduled for a public vote prior to the chairman discussing them publicly with the media. This may seem like a small internal bureaucracy gimme, but it raises an important point. In one quick action, Pai signaled a new way of doing business that departs from the adversarial stance we have often seen in Congress.

In recent years, the FCC’s chairman had frequently briefed the press (or otherwise publicly disclosed matters to be voted on) before sharing them with other commissioners’ offices. While there may have been strategic reasons for taking this approach, it left commissioners in the minority feeling disconnected from the process and disrespected. Any short-term benefit associated with that action made it increasingly difficult to build sustainable and ongoing bipartisan agreement.

This proactive FCC transparency measure came on the heels of a more significant initiative by Pai to shed light on future actions by the agency. On Feb. 2, the chairman announced plans to start a pilot program that will, for the first time, make public the full text of proposed items at the same time that agency staff provides the text to Commissioners for a vote. Pushing such transparency and increasing sunlight into the agency’s decision-making process will only lead to better decision-making.

Chairman Pai’s efforts are particularly encouraging, as the FCC’s primary objective is to find the right way to spur greater innovation and growth in one of the most vibrant sectors of our nation’s economy, while enabling a competitive marketplace that protects consumers. Encouraging continued broadband growth is crucial to solving many of our nation’s greatest challenges, from political participation to wealth inequality. Partisan practices, however, create inefficiencies and barriers that undermine the Commission’s primary mission and inhibits its ability to foster greater consumer access to broadband technology.

In the coming months, the FCC will tackle a number of high-profile issues including net neutrality, online privacy and digital empowerment. These are all urgent issues that require a consistent regulatory framework to create an environment that enhances innovation and expands opportunity for all Americans. Promoting openness and inclusion is essential to achieving fact-based consensus in determining the right framework for our nation’s communications systems.

In his initial actions, Pai has engendered some partisan attacks, but we should give credit where it is due. Transparency and fairness in the legislative and regulatory process are in the best interest of all Americans. Openness gives constituents comfort in the decisions being made by their leaders and the processes in place for making them. While observers are entitled to question government leaders’ decisions, this type of positive process reform is good for the system. Making listening a priority and improving stakeholder participation are positives, no matter which side of the aisle you call home. And, hopefully, these changes are just the first sign of the Chairman’s willingness to reach across the aisle and work substantively with the minority, even when they disagree. Congress is increasingly broken by hyper-partisanship. The rest of government should look for ways to avoid that fate.


Jamal Simmons is a co-chairman of the D.C.-based Internet Innovation Alliance.

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