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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.