Public interest groups kept up their assault on the Federal Communication Commission's closed-door broadband policy meetings Wednesday after the agency decided to bypass standard disclosure rules, effectively shutting out the public. The meetings are designed to reach a compromise over the FCC's authority to regulate broadband companies before Congress takes up the issue this Friday.
In a move that has enraged public interest groups, FCC Chief of Staff Edward Lazarus declared that the standard ex parte transparency rules -- which require the agency to disclose meetings and communications related to the FCC's rule-making processes -- do not apply to these meetings.
"To the extent stakeholders discuss proposals with Commission staff regarding other approaches outside of the open proceedings at the Commission, the agency's ex parte disclosure requirements are not applicable," Lazarus wrote in an agency blog post.
Not Rahm Emmanuel
Lazarus, a former L.A.-based lawyer and friend of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, organized the meetings in an attempt solve the regulatory impasse after a federal court ruled in April that the agency lacks the authority to regulate broadband companies.
But public interest groups have lambasted the agency, which FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski pledged would be the most open and transparent in FCC history. "Lazarus thinks he's [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emmanuel," says an industry observer. "But this isn't the White House or Congress."
On Wednesday, public interest group Free Press spent over $40,000 to buy a full-page ad in The Washington Post decrying the agency's closed-door meetings.
"Government officials are catering to big business instead of protecting the American people -- just like they did before the BP oil disaster and the financial crisis," Free Press said in the ad. "This time, get ready for higher prices, fewer choices and an Internet with corporate gatekeepers picking winners and losers online."
In a statement, Free Press chief Josh Silver said it is "inexcusable that the FCC is brokering backroom deals with industry lobbyists, while pretending to run a transparent process. After the financial crisis and the oil spill, you would think the Obama administration would have learned a lesson."
Ironically, despite all the sound and fury generated by the public's lack of access to the meetings, there has been little progress toward reaching a compromise, according to published reports. In the end, it's possible the only thing these meetings will accomplish is to enrage the very people the FCC is counting on to support its broadband agenda.
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