When the FCC considers changes to its rules, it seeks comments from interested parties. These filings are known as “comments.” The FCC then allows for a period—usually around 30 days- for interested individuals or groups to respond to the comments of others; these responses are known as “reply comments.”
The FCC encourages comments from members of the public on its proceedings and proposed rulemakings. Comments are either formal or informal. Formal comments are those that have a specific deadline and require a certain number of copies—usually four. Additionally, the FCC places formal comments in the docket. Docket numbers are crucial to make sure that an individual’s comments are considered, no matter how they are submitted. To locate a docket number, people can contact the Office of Public Affairs, Public Service Division, or the bureau or office responsible for the item.
All of the FCC’s decision-makers read and consider formal comments. But informal comments are those that do not meet deadline or copy requirements. While they are placed in the docket, they will not be as widely distributed within the FCC for review. There is no guarantee that informal comments will be read. If individuals file formal comments, they must deliver an original plus four copies of their comments to the FCC’s Office of the Secretary. If they want their formal comments to be sent to the commissioners themselves, they need to submit an original and nine copies.
Unfortunately, many people do not comment on issues of interest to them because they think that comments must be prepared and filed by an attorney. This is not true; individuals need not hire an attorney to prepare comments. There is no set format for comments, and anyone may prepare and file comments. People can prepare comments as they would a short statement or a brief letter. Of course, comments may also be detailed documents prepared by an outside law firm or other professional.
When preparing comments for the FCC, people should try to prepare sound arguments. Well-argued comments are the most helpful to the Commission when it is formulating new rules. In the end, new rules must stand the test of petitions of reconsideration by the parties involved, and sometimes they also face court challenges.