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The FCC and First Year of Open Government

by: Steven VanRoekel, Managing Director

December 7, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:92:height=106,width=70]]In the modern federal landscape, the FCC finds itself increasingly at the intersection of technology, law, and citizen participation. It's a challenging place to be—these arenas change quickly, and move in ways that advancements in one ripple out and can change the others. But the opportunity to make progress on these fronts has never been greater.

Modernizing the rulemaking process—keeping up with these changes to best serve the American public—was the focus of an event hosted by the Brookings Institute last week. As an invited member of the Digitization – Past, Present, and Short-Term Future panel , I spoke about two key benefits that new technology offers to the rulemaking process.

First, erulemaking can make government work smarter. Moving from a largely paper-based system—the norm very recently—to a digital system has led to a rulemaking process that's accessible, searchable and less weighed down by troves of paperwork.

Second, moving rulemaking online has allowed the FCC to open a process that was closed for too long. Traditionally, access to rulemaking required access to the expert legal mechanisms typically out of the reach of most citizens, yet the rules we are creating are created for all and often impact people who don't have access to legal support. We've made strides on this front - You may be familiar with our online comment crowdsourcing platforms, the ability to integrate blog comments into the public record, and our other moves to make the FCC process as open as possible – there's more to come.

Something most people don't know: the FCC is also developing ways to help citizens that lack access to the Internet participate in rulemakings remotely via voicemail, powered by increasingly accurate speech-to-text technologies. It's another way that the spirit of open government is pushing us to tinker with the process, open up closed structures, and empower citizen experts to meaningfully engage with rulemaking.

With the help of open technologies, agencies like the FCC increasingly find themselves as repositories of valuable insight generated by citizen experts. New technology makes that information available as data outputs that are easily shared, syndicated, and mashed-up against other data sets. As part of our team's effort to reimagine a new FCC.gov, we're revamping the Electronic Comment Filing System that allows for bulk download, RSS subscription to particular rulemakings, and infusing our own processes more with the web services model that's ubiquitous in the modern Internet.

An open and participatory FCC is in line with the spirit of President Obama's Open Government Directive—passed one year ago today—that is creating a more open, transparent, and participatory government.

On this anniversary, we think it is worth looking back and compiling the agency's open government accomplishments. Take a look, then add your voice in the comments and help us continue improving the FCC's rulemaking process.

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