FCC waits a year to publish formal notice needed to make porting reforms effective.

One finds the strangest things while meandering through the pages of the Federal Register. Recently, for example, we noticed that the FCC had published an Order adopting certain reforms of the local number porting process. Thanks to that publication, the reforms will take effect in 30 days (i.e., as of June 25, 2015). That’s good news, since the reforms eliminate certain confusing aspects of the process of “porting” one’s phone number from one carrier to another and were broadly supported by the telephone industry and by everybody else. There was no controversy and the tweaks to the system were recognized as an all-around good thing.

But hold on there. The brief six-page Order was adopted by the FCC in June of 2014! By its own terms the Order wouldn’t become effective until 30 days after Federal Register publication, so the new rules won’t become effective until more than a year after they were adopted. Those would be the rules whose value was universally acknowledged and as to which there was no controversy.

Why has it taken over a year for the FCC to get these reforms into effect? No explanation for the delay is apparent in the Fed Reg publication, although the Order as it appears in the Register does seem to describe itself, mysteriously, as an “Order on Reconsideration”. That’s odd, because that reference – in Paragraph 14 of the Federal Register version – does not appear in the version of the document (official reference: DA 14-842) as originally released by the Wireline Competition Bureau. Nor is there any record of any petition for reconsideration (or reconsideration on the Bureau’s own motion) in the FCC’s online docket database for Docket No. 07-244).

Ordinarily, we would shrug off the delay in getting this Order officially on the books as mere administrative inertia, but for two considerations.

First, what’s up with the apparently inaccurate (not to mention misleading) reference to some phantom “reconsideration”? It appears that the Federal Register version of the Order includes three paragraphs (those would be Paragraphs 13-15) that didn’t appear in the original version. Those three are all lumped under the heading “Procedural Matters”. It’s possible, if not likely, that these were inadvertently omitted from the Order as originally adopted and that, in an effort to spackle over the omission before the item showed up in the Federal Register, somebody merely cut-and-pasted the “Procedural Matters” paragraphs from some other proceeding, not realizing that the newly-inserted material included an inapt reference to reconsideration. Whether such after-adoption liberties can or should be taken is not clear. But in any event, should the correction of that inadvertent omission have delayed Federal Register publication for a year? And wouldn’t it have been a good idea at least to acknowledge the newly-inserted material?

Second, the FCC has lately been under fire (not least from some of its own members) for taking inordinately long times to get documents first released and then published in the Federal Register, thereby triggering effective dates, deadlines for appeals and reconsiderations, etc. So, despite that incentive, the delay here regrettably reflects that business as usual continues on the regulatory front.