OMB finally approves rules, but expect delays

Back in January, 2013, the FCC reorganized and simplified the experimental rules processes. (You can find our post describing the changes here.) The overhaul included creation of several new types of experimental licenses: for example, Program Experimental Licenses, which will eventually make it easier for manufacturers, research universities and such to test equipment on virtually any frequency. The idea is to help those creating new technologies get those new technologies to market quicker, with fewer regulatory impediments along the way. Great idea, right?

But adopting the rules was one thing; getting them up and running has been another. We’re now three years down the line and they still haven’t been implemented fully. One factor contributing to the delay: the hilariously-named Paperwork Reduction Act, which requires that new or modified “information collections” be run past the Office of Management and Budget for its approval before they can become effective.

The path started out smoothly enough. Some of revised rules – the ones that didn’t happen to be “information collections” – took effect in May, 2013. But then it got slow. Very slow. A year later, a change to Section 2.803 was approved by OMB, but still no Program, Medical Testing, or Compliance Testing experimental licenses could be granted. Another year passed while the Commission grappled with petitions for reconsideration.

But now, according to a notice in the Federal Register, OMB has given its official thumbs up to the rules that will ultimately open the regulatory doors to the new program licenses. (The specific rules in question, for those of you keeping track: Sections 5.59, 5.61, 5.63, 5.64, 5.65, 5.73, 5.79, 5.81, 5.107, 5.115, 5.121, 5.123, 5.205, 5.207, 5.217(b), 5.307, 5.308, 5.309, 5.311, 5.404, 5.405, 5.406, 5.504, and 5.602.) As a result, those rules have officially become effective as of January 14, 2016.

But let’s not get too excited just yet. Before anybody can file for the new licenses, the Commission must first modify the experimental licensing forms and create a website for reporting purposes. That process is likely to take at least several more months (including, possibly, another trip back to OMB for separate Paperwork Reduction Act review if any of the modified forms and/or website involve previously-unapproved “information collections”). In the meantime, folks who need an authorization before, say, this summer should probably consult counsel to determine what other options may be available.