A Road Map for Achieving Legislative and Regulatory Change for Telecommunications Access
The following steps can assist in achieving legislative change for telecommunications access:
1.Bring the idea for improved telecommunications access to national and local consumer organizations to develop a consensus for going forward.
2.Examine existing laws to determine how similar problems have been addressed in the past.
3.Gather facts and supporting documents to demonstrate the impact that providing such access will have on people with disabilities and society in general. These should include:
•real-life examples supporting the need for access
•information on prior experiences that local, state, or private entities have had in providing this type of access
•the costs and feasibility (technical, legal, practical) of going forward with the access proposal
4.Explore and discuss the concept with companies likely to be affected.
5.Build support through coalitions of organizations, grass-roots communities, and, if possible, industry stakeholders.
6.Bring the idea, now fully supported and documented, to congressional policymakers and work with a senator or House representative to draft a bill.
The Federal Legislative Process
Bill is introduced and given a Senate or House number
Bill is referred to a committee and then to a subcommittee
Subcommittee holds hearings on the bill
Subcommittee “marks up” the bill—often makes amendments to original language; votes to approve the bill and sends it to the full committee
Committee writes a legislative report to explain the purpose and scope of the bill. This becomes part of the bill’s “legislative history.” Advocates can suggest language for this history. Congressional debates, hearings, floor statements, and colloquies made when the bill is introduced or a vote is taken also become part of this history, which will later be used by federal agencies (the FCC) and courts to help determine the law’s intent.
The bill is debated on the floor of the House or Senate. A vote is taken.
Same process is repeated in the second congressional chamber. If there are conflicts in the final bills produced by each chamber, the bill goes to a conference committee for resolution.
The revised bill goes back to both the House and Senate for a final vote.
The bill is signed by the U.S. president.
There are far fewer hurdles to achieving regulatory change for telecommunications access than legislative change. Generally, the same initial steps should be followed—advocates should build support among consumers and industry and gather documentation in support of the requested change. Sometimes change can be effectuated simply by commenting on a notice for public comment released by the FCC (described below). Other times, consumers need to initiate a proceeding by filing their own petition for rulemaking.
The FCC Regulatory Process
After a telecommunications bill becomes a law, the FCC is charged with implementing the new statute’s provisions. The FCC follows Administrative Procedure Act procedures to ensure full notice to and comment from the public before issuing regulations for this purpose.
Notice of Inquiry (NOI). When the FCC does not have enough information to issue regulatory proposals, it first gathers general information from the public to help it formulate those proposals.
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The FCC issues proposed rules and seeks comment from the public on its recommendations.
Final Report and Order. The FCC issues a final rule, based on public comment received in response to the NPRM (and sometimes an NOI). On occasion, the FCC will need additional feedback from the public on matters related to the new regulations and will issue a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) to gather more input.
Order on Reconsideration. Members of the public who oppose the final rule may petition for reconsideration. After reviewing the arguments presented, the FCC issues a new order, resolving the contested issues.
Court Challenge. After the FCC has issued an order on reconsideration, parties still have the right to challenge the Commission’s actions in a federal court, if the parties believe that the FCC has acted arbitrarily and capriciously, or has not followed congressional intent.
Top Ten Tips for Telecommunications Advocacy: Lessons Learned from the Past
1.Identify the correct policymakers. Determine whether a regulatory or legislative change is needed. If a law already provides authority for the FCC to take action on the matter under concern, a new regulation may suffice. If not, new legislation will be necessary.
2.Find champions to support the cause. Finding someone in a high position of authority who can work internally to push the issue along will prove to be invaluable. Work with that individual to help build the case with other policymakers.
3.Be armed with facts. Information and experiences to substantiate the proposed change will be critical to secure support from regulators and legislators. Also be prepared to make in-person visits. Written submissions are helpful, but will not make the same impression as a face-to-face presentation.
4.Approach change realistically. Knowing the practical and technical limitations of the issues at hand is critical. Policymakers will want to know both the benefits and disadvantages of the proposal. Become familiar with arguments to counter any potential drawbacks.
5.Be flexible. Negotiation and compromise may often be necessary to achieve the objectives. Understand that giving in on a point now does not mean giving up forever. Progress is incremental—minor advances now can make it easier to secure improvements later.
6.Be reasonable. Advocates are far more successful when their approach is rational. In addition, lawmakers will be more likely to accommodate a request if there is a way to make the proposed change fit within the existing regulatory or legislative framework.
7.Pick your battles. Prioritize the issues to decide what is worth fighting for and what can be relinquished. Do not “sweat the small stuff” if it means prevailing on bigger issues.
8.Seek change at the appropriate time. The timing of the request may influence its outcome. Be on the look-out for strategic periods, for example, the introduction of related legislation or the pending release of new rules. Approaching Congress or the FCC may be advantageous during these periods.
9.Be patient, but persistent. Change often takes years to accomplish. This can be frustrating, but advocates should not easily give up, even if temporarily defeated. Also be aware that lawmakers juggle multiple items at any one time, and the timing of progress on your issue may be influenced by other matters capturing the attention of these policymakers.
10.Use your passion. The civil rights movement has always thrived on the passion of its advocates. Efforts to secure telecommunications access have rested upon the real-life experiences of the individuals driving those efforts. Along with hard facts, examples that portray the need for access are not only persuasive; they can also help decision-makers to better understand your position by comparing them with their own life experiences.