FAQ: When can we file for an upgrade?
As of May 23, 2021 as we write this, we are nowhere near that time. The Petition for Rulemaking is just that, a petition. We have asked the FCC to consider changing the federal regulations in order to permit the new LP-250 class of service. At this time, the FCC takes comments from the general public regarding the proposal. This means that those who support the idea will file supporting comments and those who are opposed will file comments. From this point, it is up to the FCC Commissioners who will then determine whether this should move forward. The appropriate bureau at the FCC (in this case, the Media Bureau) has a lot of influence on whether a petition for rulemaking proceeds to the next step.
The staff in the Media Bureau as well as those in the Commissioner's staff will review the comments. Attorneys in the FCC will determine the legality of the proposal as it pertains to statutes like the Communications Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, the Local Community Radio Act and other laws to assure compliance.
If the FCC wishes to move forward, the Media Bureau will then draft a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The NPRM is then circulated privately among the Commissioners and their staff, who can suggest any changes or modications. If the Commissioners are on board with moving the NPRM forward, they will first collaborate to approve the put the NPRM on the agenda for an upcoming Commission open meeting. A docket number is assigned and the item appears on the agenda.
At the open meeting, the Commissioners will bring up the consideration to allow the NPRM to go forward. At the meeting, a representative of the Bureau working on the NPRM will present it to the Commission during the open meeting. The Commissioners can then make any statements for the record (and may follow up with longer written remarks). Then the item will be voted on. The item must get a majority (at least 3) of the votes from the Commissioners to move it forward. Once voted on and adopted, the NPRM then goes back to the Bureau staff for any editorial changes.
The Secretary of the FCC will then release the adopted NPRM to the general public. It also goes to the Federal Register for publication. Once the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, then a comment and reply comment period opens. Once that is over, stakeholders (supporting and opposing) are permitted to discuss the NPRM with staff members as an ex parte presentation. Those who make these presentations must file a letter, a notice in the file for the docket that summarizes the conversation with the decision making personnel at the FCC, such as the staff of the appropriate Bureau, with the advisory staff of the Commissioners or the Commissioners themselves.
When the FCC determines that they want to make a decision on the proposal, a similar process takes place for the Report and Order (R&O). Like with the NPRM, the R&O draft is also circulated among the Commissioners and then will eventually be on the agenda for an upcoming FCC open meeting. Like with the NPRM, the R&O is voted on and if adopted, it goes back to the Bureau for any editorial changes and then published to the general public and then to the Federal Register.
It is important to remember that at times, the Commission may decide to vote on the NPRM or R&O prior to the open meeting. This is done on less controversial issues and to save time during a Commission meeting for other issues that may be more controversial.
Rules and policies that require changes to the forms or how information is collected then goes to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval to assure compliance with laws like the Paperwork Reduction Act.
Once a rule change passes the necessary post adoption hurdles, it is then sent to the Federal Register as a final rule. Once published, the Federal Register will indicate an effective date for the rule and the rule is enacted.
This is a very long process that can take more than a year and not all NPRMs make it to an R&O.
We still have a long way to go before LP-250 will be a reality, if the FCC decides to move forward with it.