How Things are Done at the FCC

Here’s a great story from Art Brodsky at Public Knowledge:

At a hearing of the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee Oct. 2, [Verizon Exec. VP Tom] Tauke was asked by Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) about the Japanese policy of keeping copper wire in service, while Verizon discontinues the use of the copper network when it connects a customer to the FIOS, fiber-based service.

Tauke replied that, “The fact is we don’t disable copper loops. We have not disabled copper loops to any home to which we have extended fiber.” At another point in the hearing, Tauke told the subcommittee: “If the customer wants the copper or wants another carrier to use copper, we put that copper back in.”

***

I am a recent convert to FIOS. . . . I called twice, to speak to two different customer service representatives. I asked each one, if I were dissatisfied with the FIOS, how would I go back to a copper connection? Each time I got the same answer. I can’t. One Verizon employee told me, “That’s policy and procedures. Once you go on fiber, you have to stay on fiber.” Another said that the fiber service was so expensive to install, the company wouldn’t let customers go back to copper.

Might the FCC get involved? Perhaps to warn Verizon and lobbyists of upcoming votes. But the public is routinely left in the dark:

On April 25, the agency issued a “notice of proposed rulemaking” that laid out the general framework for what would be included in the rules and it requested comment from interested parties. Flash forward to July 10: In a front-page newspaper story, Martin previewed his proposal for the auction rules. He said his proposal would promote a “truly open broadband network — one that would open the door to a lot of innovative services for consumers.”

[The public was] forced to rely on the chairman’s characterization of what was in his proposal rather than being able to read the proposal itself. FCC rules say the “content of agenda items” _ such as draft proposals _ are “nonpublic information” and “shall not be disclosed, directly or indirectly, to any person outside the Commission.” Employees who break the rule can be terminated.

Except, perhaps, if they talk to the right kind of people. As the GAO notes, “multiple stakeholders generally knew when the commission scheduled votes on proposed rules well before FCC notified the public.” Perhaps a new motto for the commission will be: Ex parte hearty!

I’m with Susan Crawford here: I just don’t get it.