Sixteen months after adoption, the new rules kick in

In May, 2010, we reported that the FCC had adopted a set of rules designed to promote technical harmony between the Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service (SDARS) operators and their immediately adjacent electromagnetic neighbors, the Wireless Communications Service (WCS) licensees. A few of the new rules involved a paperwork burden and therefore had to go through the often perfunctory gauntlet of being approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The process, mandated by the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), can often be completed in less than four months.

Not this time.

The first step in the PRA process calls for the FCC to solicit comments from the public about the “information collection” aspects of the new rules. That solicitation involves a pro forma notice in the Federal Register. For some reason it took the Commission eight months to get that less-than-one-page notice into the Register

The PRA requires a 60-day comment period at that point, a period that wrapped up on March 22. After that, the Commission is supposed to bundle up all the comments it receive, tack on a “supporting statement” explaining everything to OMB, and ship it all over to OMB for its review. In significantly more complicated proceedings we’ve seen the Commission accomplish this hand-off within 24 hours of the close of the 60-day comment period.

Not this time.

Instead, the Commission – which received only one comment consisting of a total of two pages – took just more than two months to send those two pages, along with its own seven-page “supporting statement” to OMB. For its part, OMB then moved quickly. It approved the information collection on July 5, barely a week after the close of the mandatory 30-day OMB comment period.

The final step in the process is an FCC notice in the Federal Register announcing that OMB approval has been received. Again, such notices routinely appear within a matter of days after the approval has walked in the door. This time, however, it took the Commission more than two months to get the notice published. The notice didn’t show up in the Register until September 19. But take heart – as of that publication date, the new rules officially took effect.

While we should applaud the extraordinary thoroughness of the PRA process, we still have to wonder why exactly it took so long for the Commission to run these particular rules through the PRA drill. The lengthy delay in bringing that process to completion raises once again the question of whether the PRA may be having the perverse effect of unduly delaying needed administrative actions while having no appreciable effect on paperwork.