Groups Say FCC Bloggers Exemption Is Discriminatory
John Eggerton 10/19/2009 5:38:42 PM

A quartet of civil rights organizations has asked the Federal Communications Commission to "correct or amend" its decision to allow online commenters to the FCC's blog to weigh in on proposed open Internet rules during the seven-day period when sunshine rules prevent lobbying of commissioners on public meeting agenda items.

The FCC last week waived its prohibition on outside (ex parte) contacts with the commissioners on the issue of network neutrality in the seven days before it is to take up that issue Oct. 22, so long as the contacts are via its new blog.

The reason, said the agency, was that those contacts "take place in a forum that is both instantaneously available to all interested parties and will not intrude on the commission's decision making."

The Asian American Justice Center, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Urban League and One Economy Corporation, argued in an emergency motion Monday that the waiver is discriminatory.

"While undoubtedly intended to facilitate public participation, the practical effect of this action is to bar public input by those who lack Internet access or rely on other means of communication while affording those with Internet access the last word," they said.

They want the FCC to either close that window of participation immediately or open it to all "irrespecitve of the form of communication."

They believe the FCC is violating its own rule that waivers are supposed to apply uniformly unless covered by an express exemption. There is no bloggers' exemption they point out. They also say the waiver violates the Administrative Procedures Act prohibition on "disparate treatment of parties in agency deliberations."

An agency spokesman was checking into the filing at press time.