Citing a massive backlog of unpublished public comments, the Center for Individual Freedom this week joined with more than 30 organizations on a coalition letter, led by Protect Internet Freedom (PIF), urging the FCC to extend pending comment periods and refrain from all rulemakings impacted by problems with the Commission's electronic comment filing system (ECFS).
"On May 12, an FCC spokesperson admitted the agency faced a backlog of 74,000 comment filings across all of the FCC’s proceedings. These backlogs are expected to exist until the implementation of a new electronic filing system," the letter notes.
"Comments are the public’s opportunity to influence the actions of a powerful government agency," the letter continues. "When that opportunity is stifled or restricted, steps must be taken to ensure that the voices of all Americans are sufficiently heard in the context of the FCC’s proceedings."
Read the entire letter below and read PIF's release on the effort here.
May 19, 2016
Dear Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Clyburn, Rosenworcel, Pai, and O'Rielly:
We, the undersigned organizations, write to express our concern regarding the backlog of public comments submitted to the Federal Communication Commissions’ electronic comment filing system (ECFS).
Additionally, as a result of the delays, we respectfully request that the comment periods for ongoing dockets be extended so that every comment submitted during the existing period can be posted and given adequate time for public consideration.
On May 12, an FCC spokesperson admitted the agency faced a backlog of 74,000 comment filings across all of the FCC’s proceedings. These backlogs are expected to exist until the implementation of a new electronic filing system.
This backlog was exposed following the revelation by Protect Internet Freedom that more than 2,200 public comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding broadband consumer privacy regulations remained unposted more than two weeks after their submission to the FCC.
Initially, the FCC claimed it was unaware that the comments were filed. A day later, when Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) asked Chairman Wheeler about the delay in posting the comments during a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and Law, Wheeler stated that the comments were not posted as a result of a "software glitch.” Finally, the agency admitted to a horrendous backlog on the ECFS system that is affecting several major decisions currently pending at the agency.
Public comments are a vital component to FCC rulemaking efforts. The comments inform, educate, and guide commissioners. They also inject an important layer of transparency and accountability into agency proceedings.
The FCC’s delay in posting comments is unavoidably limiting the length of time those remarks are available to the public, thereby reducing the potential reach and impact of the comments.
The delay also gives the unfortunate impression that the FCC is actively silencing Americans who oppose the agency’s actions. While we assume this is not the case, it is important for the FCC to understand this concern.
As a result, it is incumbent on the FCC to extend the existing comment periods until the backlog is resolved and comments are posted.
There is precedent for the FCC to grant such a delay. In 2014, when the ECFS was overwhelmed by comments in response to the FCC’s net neutrality proposal, the agency agreed to extend the comment period.
Comments are the public’s opportunity to influence the actions of a powerful government agency. When that opportunity is stifled or restricted, steps must be taken to ensure that the voices of all Americans are sufficiently heard in the context of the FCC’s proceedings.
Consequently, we respectfully request that the comment periods be extended for all proceedings being impacted by the FCC’s overwhelmed electronic comment filing system.
Additionally, we encourage the FCC to redouble its efforts to ensure that comments are posted in a timely and public manner in the future so that they may have the opportunity to inform commissioners, influence public discourse, and enhance the dialogue surrounding the important decisions undertaken by the agency and its commissioners.
1851 Center for Constitutional Law
Beacon Center of Tennessee
California Policy Center
Center for Individual Freedom
Center for Integrity and Public Policy
Citizens Against Government Waste
Col. Francis X. De Luca USMCR(Ret)
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Ethan Allen Institute
Foundation for Economic Education
Foundation for Government Accountability
Wayne Brough, PhD
Illinois Policy Institute
Institute for Liberty
Institute for Policy Innovation
The Maine Heritage Policy Center
National Taxpayers Union
Nevada Policy Research Institute
New Hampshire Center for Economic Policy
Kevin P. Kane
Pelican Institute for Public Policy
Protect Internet Freedom
Rio Grande Foundation
Taxpayers Protection Alliance
Tea Party Nation
Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy