- Introduction: What is Public Interest Advocacy?
- Who is a Public Interest Advocate?
- SMART Goals for Advocates
- Maximizing Your Impact with Congress and Other Policy Makers
- One-on-One Advocacy: Meeting with Policy Makers
- Tips on Creating an Advocacy One-Pager
- Communication and Outreach Tips
- Navigating the FCC: Participating through Comments
- FCC Leadership
Public interest advocacy is a way to promote a set of ideals and outcomes that are favorable to the interests of the general public. The goal is for these outcomes to become embedded in law, regulation, market practices, and cultural norms. Public interest advocacy is fundamentally about the art of persuasion: how to influence the policy makers and other key people who shape those laws and policies. Some of the most important tools to persuade decision makers are: expertise in the policy process and on the substance of the issue, understanding of market dynamics that drive and are impacted by policy, ability to connect policy with real people through coalitions including public interest groups, industries, and groups of individuals. Public interest advocacy can occur at the “grassroots” level by consolidating the support of individuals, or at the national level by appealing directly to the federal government. Most of these material address national or “DC-based” advocacy.
If advocacy refers to ways to promote ideals and outcomes through changes in law, regulation, and practices, advocates are the people who work to advance, support and take action on issues. In media and technology policy, those issues include promoting an open and affordable internet, a competitive communications marketplace, balanced copyright, patent reform, spectrum allocation, and others.
Building the Skills for Advocacy
What skills are needed to be an effective public interest advocate? The best public interest advocate is a “jack-of-all-trades,” who deploys a broad set of analytical skills while simultaneously serving as a constant, always-available resource for policymakers and their staff. For technology and communications policy, an educational background in law, political science, communications, political communications, computer science, and various other fields plays an important role in providing necessary background knowledge, but there are also a number of skills essential to public interest advocacy that can be learned outside of the classroom.
One of the key ways to build your public interest advocacy skills is through on-the-job-training via apprenticeships, internships, externships, fellowships, and entry-level positions at public interest advocacy organizations. Working under experienced advocates and managers allows you to learn first hand tips and personal accounts from advocates, as well as to attend meetings, legislative hearings, monitor the policymaking process, and so on. On-the-job-training facilitated by both the new advocate and an experienced supervisor allows new advocates to learn from what they see and hear, ask questions, experience how legal interpretation and procedural rules work in practice, and then take initiative to use this training to develop their public interest advocacy skills for the rest of their career.
Below is a sample position description of a public interest advocate. Do you fit the qualifications? What skills or qualities are your strongest? What are your weakest? What skills could you develop during on-the-job-training?
Sample Job Description
“Public Interest Advocate “
Goal: Customer Driven Work
A successful public interest advocate’s efforts will be “customer driven” and mirror the public interest organization to promote and protect consumers’ health, safety and pocketbooks. In general, an advocate will be able to distill knowledge of an issue in a way that explains the problem and its solution (policy or market-based) in a manner that is understandable and makes sense to typical consumers. An advocate should be able to:
- Develop a message about the issue that captures peoples’ experiences and sensibilities
- Accurately characterize policy choices and the political environment
- Offer consumers a proposal or solution that they will agree with or at least understand and appreciate, even if they disagree with the value judgment
In order to achieve maximum impact on public policy and help change markets on behalf of consumers, an effective advocate should have:
- Analytical and/or legal skills, and ability to digest and understand underlying legal documents as a prerequisite to strategic and policy planning. Ability to think quickly and devise legislative and political strategies to attain a projected outcome
- Strong understanding of marketplace trends and the political process, including regulatory and congressional procedures
- Substantive knowledge of and the ability to juggle multiple issues
- An ability to work with individuals, groups and organizations across the political spectrum and seek their input and cooperation (ability to be a team player)
- Excellent communications skills, including the ability to translate complex ideas into understandable written and oral statements, messages to persuade, impact, and inform others, including the public opinion leaders and the media
- An ability to conduct research and analyze data
Specific legislative and regulatory progress or victories (amendments and bills moved, testimony provided and filings offered) or measurable marketplace change clearly demonstrate success. Demonstrates quantifiable metrics such as: number of visits to and contacts with policymakers’ offices, number of letters or similar written communications drafted on an issue, and number of news releases issued or news outreach efforts.
A winning endgame – bringing about positive change for consumers – is likely to be achieved through a combination of activities. Traditional advocacy efforts where we express our views in letters to policymakers or press releases are important, but very often are not nearly as important as the strategic relationships an advocate forges with key policymakers, leaders of other groups, and members of the press. Great emphasis will be placed on determining an advocate’s ability to demonstrate progress in building these “quality” relationships. Therefore, each advocate should be prepared to report annually on the number of close relations developed with:
- Key legislators and their staffs
- Members of non-profit organizations, including grassroots organizations
- Other potential allies, including industry
- Key members of the press
*End of Sample Job Description*
What Makes a Goal SMART?
Sometimes advocates have the tendency to focus on tactics (such as a protest or lobbying) more than strategy, but it does not matter how interesting or loud a tactic is if it is not effective in helping you reach your advocacy goals. When doing any strategic planning for public interest, one of the first steps should always be developing a goal or set of SMART goals, that is to say they are:
- Specific: A goal should be specific enough so that you can properly focus your resources and increase the chances of your goal being reached.
- Measurable: Can you develop indicators or specific criteria that allow you to measure the progress made towards the goal(s)?
- Attainable: Can the goal(s) be attained using the resources you have or that are available to you?
- Relevant: Ultimately, all your goals should be in line with you or your organization’s mission AND serve the public interest.
- Time-bound: In most forms of advocacy, goals should have specific deadlines or a target date of completion, however in Washington, some of your goals may have time frames of decades.
Tips for Developing SMART Goals
Remember your “client”: As a public interest advocate, the public is your client and their best interest should always be the truth that you wholeheartedly advocate for.
Think long term and consider the “macro environment”: Between disasters (man-made and natural), budgets, wars, and more, it can be difficult to make your point resonate with policy makers for an extended period of time. No matter how important your issue is, it is only one of many public interest issues that is of concern to the public, policymakers, and media. Take into consideration external factors that your organization may not have control over, such as the political, economic, and social climate when developing goals. Effective advocacy is often a waiting game, one of laying groundwork and then seizing opportunities when they appear. This requires thinking long-term: who will the next President likely be? Which party will dominate Congress? What industry fights are ongoing? Anticipating changes and policies is a requisite to effective advocacy, and even lobbying.
Do your homework: Be sure you are well-versed in political procedures and processes and that you take the time to do your own background research on the issue you are working on. Read news articles, source materials (actual agency proceedings or court cases), blogs, commentary, Congressional hearings and statements. In addition, be sure to do research on the backgrounds of the allies, opponents, media, and policymakers.
Congressional hearings, court proceedings, panels, and other speaking opportunities are all great ways for advocates to increase awareness on their issue, increase understanding of the issue, build relationships with important players, and help improve visibility of you or your organization as topic experts. When you are invited to speak at or attend a hearing, proceeding, or panel, here are some tips to keep in mind to help you get the most out of your advocacy experience:
Know your audience. When testifying before Congress, it is not just about who or what you know – but your ability to meld the two. Take a moment to feel out the room: gauge who is vocal on the topic, or who has a vested interest, and make sure to introduce yourself (beforehand if possible). This way, leaders will see you as a familiar face and be more likely to listen to you, which helps when the time comes for cross examination and coalition building.
Say it well. Articulate your points as eloquently as possible. Speak slowly, be clear, and display a direct line of logic. Doing so makes you appear confident and knowledgeable, as well as able to engage in a discussion that is advantageous for all parties involved. Many questions can be intimidating, but be sure to not shy away from the question – even if you are answering a different one than originally posed. The most talented advocates are able to address their main talking points and answer the question seamlessly.
Government officials may not be expert in your area. Congressmen are not technical experts and are often not even policy experts in some issues under their consideration. Explain issues clearly, answer any seemingly simple questions, and pitch yourself as a useful resource.
Be present. Mentally and physically. Even if you are not testifying, it is extremely important to be in the room during a hearing if you can.
Compete with companies. Companies may have endless money, so to compete with them, or challenge them, you must also get top-notch people. But keep in mind that hiring an expert is not enough—any experienced economist has testified on numerous cases and written extensively, and cannot contradict past positions while working on your issue, so find someone whose stance aligns with your needs, or find multiple experts.
Panel participation. Being on a panel is an effective way to have your ideas and opinions heard by a wide range of attendees, as well as engage in constructive conversation with people with different perspectives on your issue. The way you frame your argument should change depending on who is at the presentation – be able to convey your ideas in more than one way so that it resonates with as many people as possible.
Hearings and Court Proceedings. Hearings, in some ways, are similar to preparing for trial or speaking in court (counterarguments, doing your research, testifying). However, unlike court, there are no set rules for Q&A, and no guarantee you will get the chance to make your points.
Strategies for Argumentation.
The following are useful strategies for argumentation. Your ability to clearly and maturely argue your point in congressional hearings, panels, and one-on-one meetings with legislators, media, and the public is essential to being an effective public interest advocate:
- Think through your argument: It is crucial to anticipate all the ways in which your opposition could rebut, and how you can then counter their points. Predict what data they will use to refute your argument, and have readily available information that can be presented in a way that reinforces the points they are trying to diminish.
- Give your argument context: This can be done through a historical perspective, as well as a modern day media lense. Judges, public interest advocates, and other people in the field are responsible for keeping up to date on current issues, so strengthen your credibility by drawing parallels to historical similarities as well as current examples. This will show your well rounded understanding of the issue, as well as a thoroughly researched foundation of knowledge.
- Emphasize efficiency: The most effective arguments are the ones that demonstrate how the implementation of your position will make the project or industry run more efficiently. Your opposition and critics will find it difficult to rebut well thought out, logical economics. If the efficiency argument does not convince them, then it is appropriate to support with other policy arguments.
- Make the numbers work for you: Do not be afraid to use the numbers to your advantage and to create the most compelling arguments. However, in doing so, be sure to stay true to the integrity of the data provided. Anticipate how your use of data will be challenged and only use it if you can counter that attack.
- Make it relatable: Use an analogy to get the conversation going to produce thought provoking statements, in turn making your point easily retainable.
- Stay relevant and within the appropriate legal doctrine: Antritrust law is not equivalent to the Communications Act, so if an antitrust argument is what’s on the table, come in with an antitrust argument.
- Directly refute using your opponent’s argument: The best platform for making your case is countering the logic and conclusion of your opponents. When done effectively, direct rebuttal can give you an upper hand. Discredit them with their own materials and expertise.
- Communicate complex ideas in simple terms: Knowing the information and being able to convey it in a comprehensible way are two different tasks. It is important to be able to take what you know and to communicate in laymans’ terms.
- Use expert language when appropriate: While you want to be able to efficiently explain complex ideas in simpler terms, be sure that you take advantage of opportunities to use others’ established credibility to make your point. If an expert or specialist in a field uses certain terminology, repeat that term as well in your subsequent argument, to turn their credibility as an expert towards your argument.
- Use personal stories: Use personalized arguments and examples to deny opponents the ability to make an issue cold or removed.
Meeting with policy makers, such as a congressional Representative or Senator is a great advocacy opportunity. You can use meetings to share your story, explain why an issue is important to you and your community, lay out the legal and policy basis of your argument, and ask questions directly.
If you are focused on working with legislators and their staff to propose, support, oppose, or make any other move in relation to a piece of legislation, that form of advocacy is called lobbying. Most of the tips and tools in all of these resource materials are applicable to lobbying and targeted at improving lobbying efforts for public interest.
As a public interest advocate, it is important to understand the laws surrounding lobbying as a non-profit, especially 501(c)(3) non-profits. In general, 501(c)(3) organizations that have a tax exempt status are prohibited from engaging in “substantial” lobbying. For an in depth look at the laws that apply to lobbying as a charitable organization and tax exemption, please visit the IRS website: http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Lobbying. Here are some key tips to know if you or your organization decides to engage in lobbying:
Grassroots Lobbying vs. Direct Lobbying
Direct lobbying is the act of trying to influence a legislation through direct contact and communication with legislators, their staff, and others who influence the creation of legislation. Grassroots lobbying is the act of stating your position to the public and asking them to contact their legislators, legislative staff, and those who influence the creation of legislation on behalf of that position. Distinguishing between the two is important for maintaining certain tax statuses.
Researching which Offices to Meet with is Half the Battle
As an advocate, you can be most effective when you meeting with the Member of Congress who represents the area where you live or where your organization is located. Congressional websites like www.house.gov and www.senate.gov can provide you with useful tools to lookup the Member of Congress represents you or your organization. Once you have identified your Congressional representative, call or email the congressional office to request a meeting with the Member and the appropriate staffer.
If you work for a DC office or national organization, you may establish a constituent relationship through advocacy partners that may be in the member’s district or state. You may also request a meeting on the basis of the relevance of your issue in general, and your expertise to bring facts and arguments to the legislator.
Don’t be Dissuaded if You Meet with Staffers
Do not be dissuaded if you meet with a member of the Senator or Representative’s staff instead of the actual Member of Congress. These staffers are accustomed to taking meetings and then relaying important information to the Member.
Flexibility is Key
Be flexible with the dates and times you suggest when submitting a meeting request. Half an hour is generally a good amount of time to budget for a meeting.
Recruit Other People from Your Community to Join You
There is strength in numbers, and the size of a group can highlight how many people an in area care deeply about an issue. (Be sure to let the office know how many people to expect.)
Prepare and Rehearse
Before the meeting, outline and rehearse what you and your team plan to say. Narrow your presentation down to the top 3 or 5 points you want your policy maker to take away from the meeting.
Listen. And Gather Intelligence.
Listen to the Member or staffer before rolling out your presentation. Do they know a lot about the issue or a little? Is there a controversy about it in their district or state? Do they have a specific concern you can address? Are there other big issues going on that day that may be distracting to them? Also, ask questions about process, such as whether they think your issue is likely to move, or what others in Congress are talking about on your issue.
Be sure to bring materials relevant to the issue that you can leave with the office.
After the meeting, follow up with a thank you note and any additional information that the office may have requested. Send these materials as soon as possible, so the staffer will recognize they can rely on you.
As you practice one-on-one advocacy, there are more complex tools you can use. Here are a few examples: (1) learn House and Senate rules for moving legislation (and pay attention to things like Senate procedures for amendments); (2) be cognisant of spending too much time on bills that may go nowhere; (3) use www.govtrack.us to track bills and resolutions.
What is the story you are telling?
- A short, one-page summary (or “one-pager”) is an example of a briefing material that can help you explain an issue or position that you or your organization has taken.
- After deciding which story you want to tell, think of the helpful facts and analysis that support your position; this can include background information, helpful statistics or figures, argumentations, and stories from your constituency.
Know your audience
- Including information that is specific to the office you are meeting with can help you stand out (like highlighting how many people in the state or district will be affected)
- If the meeting is about a specific problem, be sure to include what solution or what specific action you believe a policy maker should take.
- If you are representing a large group or organization, or if you are working with limited resources, it is important to create something that many people can use so that you are sharing a common message.
- Make sure all your arguments are backed up with facts, that your facts are well-established, and that any claims you make about your opposition are truthful.
Don’t forget the details!
- Use your peers for feedback. The best way to know if you have created something that is interesting and helpful is to have an extra pair of eyes review it. Try sharing it with someone who is unfamiliar with the issue to gather some feedback.
- Double check for spelling and typo errors. A document filled with errors is distracting and affects how others perceive your organization and mission.
- Is the font size and style easy to read? It is always best to choose something generic that will not distract from your message.
- Did you include your organization’s logo and contact information? Make sure the person you are sharing this resource with knows how to connect with you
Interviews are a great opportunity to get your brand position in front of the public. They’re usually performed for stories (articles that appear in new media news sites, blogs, broadcast or print) or as backgrounders to catch a journalist up on the issue. They’re an excellent opportunity to build a relationship with that writer and/or venue, and the stories produced will lead to much wider viewership and more credibility than any materials you publish on your own. You may also have staff participate in interviews for editorials (which present a venue’s opinion) or as a service to press new on your topic/issue.
Sometimes press inquiries may come to you, but at other times you’ll need to approach media outlets and reporters specifically interested in your issue. It helps if you have a new or intriguing angle, interesting information that appeals to their readers, assets (graphics and videos) and a press strategy in place. Whenever possible, it’s a great idea to offer new information or angles that haven’t been covered before so your reporter feels that she or he is contributing to the discussion (and not just doing stories that their competitors already covered). In other words, you should determine the types of audiences you’re trying to reach, choose the venues that engage with your desired audiences, craft a message that appeals to this group, decide your message delivery mechanism (stories, editorials, op-eds, broadcast, etc.,) and choose your spokespeople for your issue. It helps tremendously if you pair this information with a timeline.
When engaging press, be sure to be as respectful and helpful as possible. Journalists are covering multiple stories simultaneously and struggle with tight, constantly shifting deadlines. Endeavor to remain honest when answering questions, and be upfront on any conflicts of interest or biases, as reporters are quite capable of finding out this information on their own during fact-checking. You want the media to think of you as they continue to cover your issue, so handle your relationship with integrity.
It’s wise to share any resulting stories and commentary on your social channels and in your newsletters and site updates.
Blog Posts vs. Op-Eds
It is important to note the difference between blog posts and op-eds in order to determine which communication method will be most effective (and when) in your marketing timeline.
Blogs: As an organization you have complete control of your in-house messaging delivery systems, including your website, social media and blog portal. You should be able to use these tactical mechanisms rather quickly, as it takes less time for your staff to produce a blog post or a site update than it does to pitch media.
These digital tactics offer complete message control, but lack the credibility, massive viewership and engagement (via forums/comments and social media) that an op-ed or editorial will produce.
Op-eds: Op-eds usually prove a more effective mechanism for moving the needle on your issue, but also require more relationship building and effort on your part, and may mean that you have less message control.
The best communication strategies understand when and how to use these two methods in a marketing strategy. Understand that neither is a substitute for the other, and that it’s best to use both tactics in your communications strategy.
Framing and Reframing
In working in public interest advocacy, you’ll find that the framing of an issue can largely shape how the media depicts your issue, as well as how the public and policymakers feel about your issue. Framing is a way of presenting or posing an issue or problem in a context that will garner support from your constituents, allies, and targets. In order to properly frame your pitch, you must know the history and stories of the people you’re trying to convince and weave your issue into whatever works for that group of people.
Any issue can be framed in a multitude of ways that will attract support or opposition from various players, and the framing of an issue will create a certain mindset for those who may be unfamiliar with your issue. You probably see this all the time in how issues are posed during elections versus once a person is elected to office. Framing is important when determining the timing for your campaign because if your issue is being framed in a way that hurts your campaign, you will need to include additional time for reframing the message to the public, policymakers, and others.
Timing for press stories, media, and other outreach is key to reaching the largest audience possible. While you may regularly update your social media accounts and blog posts, you may also find that when your particular issue is no longer in the media spotlight, you may need timing hooks, such as holidays and elections, to push press stories.
Let’s say for example, you’re submitting comments to the FCC in response to a notice on inquiry (a topic that may get little press interest). When your issue becomes “sleepy,” that’s the best time to do targeted outreach to select reporters who have a proven track record of interest in your field. Their reports could help generate interest early on for the FCC notice of inquiry issue.
Some General Media and Strategic Communications Tips
Reiterate your message: Remember every stage of the advocacy and/or lobbying process is a chance to refresh media coverage of your issue.
- Be judicious about the use of blogs and the press: While it is helpful for an advocate to build their profile, it is important to speak out the most when doing so will directly or indirectly help you reach your advocacy goals.
- Think about what impact a strong critique could have on your relationships with industry or government officials you work closely with. Some relationships, such as with chairpersons of congressional committees, may not be able to bounce back from such criticism, so be sure to consider the pros and cons. In addition, if there’s a risk of a blog post or op-ed being depicted as self-serving, find a third party, such as a coalition member or policymaker to co-author the piece (aka third party validation)
- Cosmetic vs. strategic press coverage: Have a strategic reason for speaking publicly on an issue. Don’t just grab opportunities just to get your name in the media. When working in coalitions, divide expertise and share press opportunities for public outreach and to enhance strategic cooperation.
- When possible, deliver simple messages that take advantage of key facts that effectively convinces media, individuals, and policymakers on the merits of the public interest viewpoint.
- Be creative with gimmicks and descriptive imagery that helps people visualize your issue.
What is the FCC?
Each time Congress enacts a law affecting telecommunications, an independent federal agency known as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), develops rules to implement the law. The FCC can also create rules to govern communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in the U.S. The FCC is lead by five commissioners, three of which are of the same political party, including a Chairperson. The organization of the agency is divided into various bureaus and offices overseeing different policy areas.
What is the Rulemaking Process?
The Commission takes various steps through its rulemaking process known as “notice and comment” for developing and issuing rules. This process can lead to new rules or amendments and repeals to existing rules. There are many opportunities throughout the rulemaking process for the public to weigh in. These include submitting letters, filing comments and meeting with commissioner offices.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File Comments?
Nope! When the Commission proposes new rules, a period of time is established for the public to comment on the proposed rules. Anyone can file comments. You don’t need to be an attorney or hire one. When the Commission publishes proposed rules, it will clearly detail the specific deadlines and instructions for filing comments and reply comments.
Comments are just that. In your comments, you tell the Commission what you think about the topic and why you support or oppose the proposals.
After initial comments are filed, there is an additional period for responding to the first set of comments. During this second phase, you can file reply comments. In your reply comments you can review what others have said in their initial comments and support or disagree with them.
Are There Different Kinds of Comments?
Yes. Typically, a comment period offers the public an opportunity to be heard and share their opinion on a proposed policy.
For many of its proceedings, such as a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) or an Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the FCC will have a public comment period, followed by a reply comment period. During the public comment period, all interested stakeholders may read the proposal put forth by the Commission and submit comments.
It’s generally advisable to read through the proceeding on which you are commenting, as this allows you to make the most informed comment in response. But it’s not necessary. While many stakeholders, like industry companies or public interest groups, are likely to file very lengthy, formal-looking comments, many individual members of the public file shorter, much less formal comments that give the FCC their real-world perspective. These are crucial to the process because it gives the FCC a way to hear straight from the consumers.
Often individuals will learn about an issue in the media and be inspired to comment, as happened with the Open Internet proceeding in 2014. If you’re interested in just filing a brief comment, a few paragraphs, you can probably proceed directly to “How to File Comments at FCC.gov”, below. There aren’t generally strict requirements for filing a comment on a proceeding.
How Do I File a Comment at the FCC?
1. Go to fcc.gov.
2. In the upper mid-right hand area, click the bar that says:
Take Action: Comment, Complain, Discuss
A menu will drop down – select “Comment – File a Public Comment”
3. That link will send you to a “Send Us Your Comments” page that will have a brief set of directions, followed by a list of all the open proceedings. Click the number of the proceeding you wish to comment on.
4. This will bring up the ECFS (Electronic Comment Filing System) Express page. This enables you to type in or copy and paste a brief set of comments right into a text box. Be sure to include all relevant information in the boxes as indicated, like your name and address.
5. Alternatively, should you wish to submit a PDF (often advisable for longer comments as larger files, those more resembling formal legal filings, etc.), go to the top left corner under “ECFS Main Links” and click the fourth link down, “Submit a Filing.”
6. This will bring up a more complicated looking submission page, broken into these sections:
a. Proceeding: You will need to re-enter the number of the proceeding in the indicated box, as fill in any other asterisked boxes.
b. Contact Info: If you are filing on behalf of an organization or company, put the name of the organization/company (ex: Communications Ltd.) under “Name of Filer” and your name under “Attorney/Author Name.” Note also, you don’t need to be an attorney to file, but if you are a lawyer representing a client, you must remember to submit the name of your law firm.
c. Details: The details section may look daunting. Keep in mind that if you’re submitting a comment following the directions above, you most likely can ignore this section. The exception is if you are submitting an ex parte notice – required if you have had a meeting with an employee of the Commission. If this is the case, there are additional requirements for submitting an ex parte – contact the Commission directly for more information or visit: http://www.fcc.gov/guides/how-file-notice-ex-parte-presentation.
d. Address: Remember, what you put in these boxes (along with everything else you submit) will be publicly available after you submit.
e. Documents: The last step is to attach your comment. Click Choose File button in the bottom left and select your chosen file. You may add multiple attachments by selecting “Add Another Attachment” and following the same process. You may, if you choose, add a “custom description” (e.g. “Comment of A Concerned Consumer”), but it’s not necessary.
7. Then hit Continue, where you will confirm that the information you are submitting is what you want to submit, and then confirm. The system will give you a confirmation number, which can be useful to write down and keep on hand in case there is a problem with your submission.
8. Congratulations! You’ve submitted an official FCC docket filing. NOTE: your comment is unlikely to appear immediately. It may take a few hours, days, or weeks, depending on the popularity of the docket, so don’t be concerned if you don’t see it immediately.
How Do I Find Other People’s Comments?
1. On the main ECFS page (http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/), you can go over to the left hand under “ECFS Main Links” again.
2. This time select the second link down, “Search for Filings.”
3. You can search for filings in a couple different ways here, including by docket number, by the company/organization name, by the author name, by the date filed, or some combination of these.
a. Take special care on the dates. The default date will only give you the comments you’ve specified up to the past year, but many dockets have a record going back several years.
b. In the Advanced Options section, there is an option to exclude “Brief Comments” if you only want to browse the larger, more substantive filings. Alternatively, if you want to check out the scope of briefer comments, or see how many people beyond the largest stakeholders have taken note of an issue, you can click “only” to just see those comments.
c. If you want to search the actual text of the findings for a keyword or phrase, click ECFS Full Text Search toward the top of the Search for Filings page. The full text search will still let you search by the criteria mentioned above, but also has a box to search for a particular word or phrase in the filings.
4. Then, as all research goes, you may just have to play around with the search tool to find what you want. Do you want all comments ever filed on docket 07-52 by Public Knowledge? Make sure the dates go back to 2007. If you’re interested in the most recent filings on 10-127 since a related docket was introduced in 2013, you need only go back to 2013. And so forth.
FCC Terms to Know
Knowing your “ABCs” or specifically, NOIs, NPRMs, and R&Os is key to understanding the Commission’s decision-making process. Exactly what do these letters mean? Below is a guide to understanding the “alphabets” of the FCC.
Notice of Inquiry (NOI): The Commission releases an NOI for the purpose of gathering information about a broad subject or as a means of generating ideas on a specific issue. NOIs are initiated either by the Commission or an outside request.
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM): An NPRM explains the need, source of authority and reasons for a proposed rule change. An NPRM contains proposed changes to the Commission’s rules and seeks public comment on these proposals. The public may comment on any part, but the agency will usually include specific questions on which it wants public comment or data.
Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM): After reviewing your comments and the comments of others to the NPRM, the FCC may also choose to provide an opportunity for you to comment further on a related or specific proposal.
Public Docket: The rulemaking docket is the electronic file in which the Commission places all of the rulemaking documents. These public dockets are maintained by the Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) and is available to the public for viewing.
Report and Order (R&O): After considering comments to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (or Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking), the FCC issues a Report and Order. The R&O may develop new rules, amend existing rules or make a decision not to do so. Summaries of the R&O are published in the Federal Register. The Federal Register summary will tell you when a rule change will become effective.
Changes After the R&O
Petition for Reconsideration: If you are not satisfied with the way an issue is resolved in the R&O, you can file a Petition for Reconsideration within 30 days from date the R&O appears in the Federal Register.
Memorandum Opinion and Order (MO&O): In response to the Petition for Reconsideration, the FCC may issue a Memorandum Opinion and Order (MO&O) or an Order on Reconsideration amending the new rules or stating that the rules will not be changed.
The FCC is directed by five commissioners appointed by the president of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for five-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term. The president designates one of the commissioners to serve as chairman. Only three commissioners may be members of the same political party, and none can have a financial interest in any commission-related business. Learn about the current commissioners here.