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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

FCC & "A Government as Good as its People"
Observations on the Election Day FCC Meeting

When I joined FCC in September 1979 in the Carter Administration, a common phrase was "a government as good as its people" - a goal for government activities. Call me naive, but I still think that is a reasonable goal.

Until this week, I had not been to an FCC commission meeting in the 4 1/2 years since my retirement. I had heard stories about them, but I didn't really believe them. Last week I read somewhere about a theory that just before the start time of a meeting the commissioners pick up an old "figure 8" ball, shake it and wait for a number from 1 to 8. This determines the delay in hours of the meeting from the scheduled time -- according to this theory. I didn't believe it when I read it. Now I am not so sure.

Under the new FCC openness procedure, which I have previously applauded, the agenda for this meeting was announced 3 weeks in advance. Then 7 days before the meeting the traditional Sunshine Notice was released giving the agenda. Then several items were deleted from the original agenda before the meeting (1 2 3). For those readers without a long memory of these things, the monthly meeting is the legally required minimum frequency of meetings. When I joined in 1979, after the implementation of the Government in Sunshine Act, there was generally one meeting/week and there were occasionally 2 meetings/week. The then 7 commissioners could deal with this work load. (My wife reminds me that at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in the 12 months following the Three Mile Island event there were more meetings than work days - NRC counts afternoon sessions as a separate meeting than morning sessions.) I think the monthly meeting scheme came about under Chairman Fowler and has continued with little questioning since then.

  • 11 AM I arrived at the Commission Meeting Room a few minutes before the scheduled start time of and found about 100 people there - virtually no FCC staff was present. I suspected something was awry. But even high powered broadcast lobbyists were present so I guess I wasn't too naive to show up on time.
  • 11:45 AM Chairman Martin appears in the room in the front right corner and magically attracts a huddle of reporters. (I hear later that the press uses the rugby terminology of "scrum" to describe this formation.) The nonreporters in the room observed the scrum from a distance. The Chairman talks for about 10 minutes with the reporters, ignoring everyone else in the room and then disappears quietly. Apparently the reporters were not sworn to secrecy because if you asked them you found out which items were cancelled and which were still being rewritten. But there was no announcement to the waiting audience about anything.
  • 1 PM A staffer appears and announces that it "looks like" the meeting will start at 1:45 and that maybe the visitors might be able to get some lunch before then.
  • 1:45 PM Return to room after lunch, crowd has dwindled to about 50. Reporters still in about the same number as before. No news, resume waiting and talking with old acquaintances. An FCC staffer who has a Blackberry reports that messages flying back and forth indicate major rewrites still underway - but this was certainly not an announcement just a "leak" from a former colleague.
  • 3:00 PM A staffer appears and announces they are almost ready.
  • 3:30 PM I give up and leave. Apparently the meeting started within 30 minutes after I left but the item I was interested in was last and did not begin until 40 minutes into the meeting. When I got home, the meeting was underway, but the web-based online viewing system was not accepting new viewers. I watched it later that evening on replay.
I still think that "a government as good as its people" is a good goal. I am not sure what this endless delay of meetings with no information to attendees says about the current FCC's viewpoint on this as a goal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Better not tell you now.
Ask again later.
(After Jan 20!)