The FCC recently issued an NPRM seeking comments on whether it should implement procedural rules for petitions for forbearance under Section 10 of the Communications Act as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The NPRM can be found here. It looks as though the Commission will try to act quickly on this reform agenda as there are several petitions for forbearance queued up on the docket.
Forbearance from enforcing a regulation is warranted when the Commission determines the regulation is not needed to protect consumers or to ensure just and reasonable rates and practices by carriers or when it would otherwise promote the public interest. As it is now, if the Commission does not act on a petition for forbearance within a year (plus a potential, one-time 90 day extension) it is deemed granted.
The NPRM signals that the Commission wants to take a hard look at the procedures for granting forbearance in general and specifically:
- Whether new rules should govern the format and content of forbearance petitions,
- Whether new notice and comment rules, such as default comment periods and time limits on ex parte filings, should be adopted, and
- Whether other rules would facilitate the participation of state commissions, as well as other parties, in forbearance proceedings.
The Democratic Commissioner's Copps and Adelstein issued statements that signaled their intent to rein in the practice of forbearance, with Commissioner Copps lamenting that the FCC was becoming the "Forbearance Communications Commission."