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Federal Communications Commission
1919 - M Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
News media information 202 / 418-0500
Fax-On-Demand 202 / 418-2830
Internet: http://www.fcc.gov

This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

Report No. GN 98- 4 GENERAL ACTION April 2, 1998

(GC DOCKET 97-113)

The FCC has amended its rules to allow the public to file comments and other pleadings electronically via the Internet in many rulemaking proceedings. Electronic filing will be permitted in most notice and comment rulemaking proceedings, most proceedings involving petitions for rulemaking, Notice of Inquiry proceedings, and petitions for reconsideration in these proceedings.

The Commission is committed to taking advantage of new information technologies to serve the public. As part of this commitment, the FCC is implementing an Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) that will make it much easier for members of the public to participate in the Commission rulemaking process and will increase the efficiency of the Commission's operations. By making it simpler to submit comments, the Commission expects greater and more diverse public input. Electronic filing will lower the costs of filing comments because parties will no longer have to file multiple paper copies and arrange for mailing or messenger delivery if the party to be served agrees to be served electronically. Comments will be easier to review. Electronic comment filing will also make it easier for persons with disabilities to participate in FCC proceedings. The ECFS is currently available in proceedings specifically designated by the Commission, and will be available generally when the rules adopted today go into effect in early June.

The electronic comment filing initiative was launched in early 1996, building upon prior information technology efforts, such as the FCC Internet site on the World Wide Web and the Commission's Record Image Processing System (RIPS) which maintains public pleadings in rulemaking proceedings. ECFS will replace RIPS after all data and images have been transferred to the new system. This encompasses Commission documents and related comments from 1992 onward.

The ECFS will allow members of the public to file, review and print documents on-line through the Internet, rather than having to rely on paper copies accessible through the FCC reference room or copy contractor. The ECFS will accept electronically filed comments in rulemaking proceedings, scan-in paper documents, and locate, retrieve, download and print any documents in the system.

The Commission initially proposed electronic comment filing for rulemaking proceedings, but in response to public comments, has expanded this initial implementation of the ECFS to include comments in Notice of Inquiry proceedings, petitions for rulemaking proceedings, and pleadings in petitions for rulemaking proceedings. The ECFS will also accept ex parte filings in these proceedings, including the summaries of oral ex parte presentations. For now, the Commission will not accept electronic comments in broadcast allotment proceedings because of its concern that electronic filings in these restricted proceedings might not be properly served on the parties and to give the Commission more experience in electronic filing before including the large number of broadcast allotment proceedings.

The Commission will issue a Public Notice when the ECFS will officially replace the RIPS system. The new system will be monitored and evaluated to determine whether there is any need to make modifications and whether it is feasible to expand further the applicability of the system beyond rulemaking-related proceedings, and possibly to require electronic filing in the future.

The Commission-wide ECFS will complement individual Bureaus and Office electronic filing initiatives, such as the Common Carrier Bureau's electronic tariff filing system, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau's planned uniform electronic licensing system, and the Mass Media Bureau's proceeding, also adopted today, to streamline mass media applications, rules, and processes.

Action by the Commission April 2, 1998, by Report and Order (FCC 98-56). Chairman Kennard, Commissioners Ness, Furchtgott-Roth and Powell with Commissioner Tristani concurring in part and dissenting in part and issuing a statement.


News Media contact: Rosemary Kimball at (202) 418-0500.
Office of General Counsel contact: Laurence Schecker (202) 418-1720
Office of Public Affairs contact (ECFS operations): Sheryl Segal (202) 418-0265

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April 2, 1998


In the Matter of Electronic Filing of Documents in Rulemaking Proceedings
(GC Docket No. 97-113)

I strongly support the thrust of today's action to permit parties to file documents with the Commission electronically. Electronic filing should make our processes more open and accessible and enhance the public's ability to actively participate in rulemaking proceedings.

There is one aspect of today's Order, however, that I cannot support. The Order establishes a midnight deadline for electronic filings rather than the 5:30 p.m. deadline that applies to paper filings. This six and a half hour extension will give electronic filers an advantage over paper filers. Indeed, the Order (at para. 19) states that it is adopting a midnight deadline because it "wish[es] to encourage electronic filing." To the extent that a midnight deadline provides an incentive for parties to file electronically who otherwise would file on paper, the extra filing time must provide them with a clear benefit.

Moreover, the advantage for electronic filers could be far more substantial than simply the additional time involved. Under current Commission practice, paper filers may provide courtesy copies to ITS, the Commission's transcription service, when they file with the Secretary's office. Outside parties can obtain copies of these documents from ITS that same evening. Also, it is not uncommon (at least it has not been up to now) for parties to serve courtesy copies directly on other parties at the time they file their comments with the Commission. Thus, it is quite possible that electronic filers will be able to obtain copies of paper filings by early evening and incorporate responses by the midnight deadline. Essentially, this would give electronic filers an additional reply opportunity, permitting them to address arguments raised by the paper filers that they had not anticipated.

Were electronic filing an option available to everyone, these concerns may not be significant. But millions of Americans do not have Internet access. These are the people who will be most disadvantaged by the midnight filing deadline. Meanwhile, those with the resources to file electronically, and especially those Washington insiders who know how to quickly obtain copies of paper filings, will be the biggest winners. It is already difficult enough for average citizens to make their voices heard at the Commission. I believe that today's decision establishing different deadlines for electronic and paper filings only increases that difficulty. I therefore dissent from this aspect of the Order.