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The Paper Chase at the FCC

Guide to the Paper Chase at the Federal Communications Commission

How do I keep up with what's going on at the FCC?


Luckily for Internet users, the Commission has developed a very useful communications hub through its World Wide Website at The site is updated daily with information about and from each of the Commissioners and each of the bureaus. Take a moment and browse the site. A good starting point is the Commission's home page for implementing the Telecommunications Act of 1996 at For information about how to find information via the 202/418-0288.


The FCC website includes the Daily Digest of news releases from the Commission. The Digest is posted every business day and is also distributed via an email listserv. Anyone with email access to the Internet may subscribe. The subscription is free.

In the body of the message, type:
subscribe digest Your-first-name Your-last-name

To stop (or cancel) your subscription, send the message "unsubscribe digest." Additional assistance is available from the listserv by sending the message "help." The "help" message will repeat the instructions for subscribing and canceling the subscription. It will also identify what other lists are currently available for subscription and to which ones you are subscribed. For additional information or assistance in using 202/418-0507.

Fax On Demand

The FCC makes the Daily Digest news releases and other information available through its fax-on-demand service.

To receive information, call 202/418-2830 and follow the prompts that appear on the next page.

I. The voice prompt will ask you if you want:
1. A copy of that day's Daily Digest.

If so, press 1.

2. If not, wait.

II. After a short pause, the voice prompt will give you one of three choices:
1. A listing of available indices. If so press 1.

Then press 1 for an index of news releases.
press 2 for an index of speeches.
press 3 for an index of fact sheets.
press 4 for a listing of FCC current events.
press 5 for an index of Public Notices.
press 6 for a index of Auction information.
press 7 for a listing of all indexes.

After you select one of those options, enter your fax number (area code and number), and the pound sign (#) and the index will be sent to you. You also have the option of entering a telephone extension or other numeric code which will be placed on the top of the document to identify it as yours when it comes over the fax machine.

2. A document by document number. If so press 2.

If you have received an index, select the document you would like to receive, enter the document number (found on the list that was just faxed to you), and press the pound sign. Then enter your fax number, press the pound sign again, and the document will be faxed to you.

3. A Daily Digest. If so press 3.
Then press 1 for today's "Daily Digest" or press 2 for a previous day's "Daily Digest."

Enter the date of the previous "Daily Digest" that you want by month, day, year (mmddyy).

If you do not have Internet access and want to receive hard copies of Orders, releases, speeches, and other, longer documents, call the FCC's duplicating contractor, International Transcription Services (ITS), at 202/857-3800. Note: Orders at ITS can be very expensive; the most economical option is obtaining information via the World Wide Web site whenever possible.

How can I be heard in proceedings at the FCC?

The Federal Communications Commission seeks comments from the public on proceedings and proposed rulemakings before the Commission. Individuals interested in commenting on proceedings may do so either formally or informally.

What is the difference between formal and informal comments?

There are two basic types of comments: formal and informal. Comments are considered formal if they are filed by deadline and if the proper number of copies (usually four) are supplied to the Commission. Formal comments are placed in the docket and are considered by all the decisionmakers at the Commission. If the requirements are not fulfilled, the comments are considered informal. Informal comments are placed in the docket, but your comments will not be as widely distributed within the FCC for review. That means that there is no guarantee that your comments will be read.

In filing formal comments, an original plus four (4) copies of your comments must be delivered, by mail or by hand, to:

Office of the Secretary
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

If you would like your formal comments to be circulated to the Commissioners, an original and nine (9) copies must be submitted. Submitting the extra five copies is your guarantee that your comments make it to each Commissioner's office.

Do I have to be an attorney or hire an attorney to file comments?

Often people do not comment on items of interest to them because they fear that comments must be prepared and filed by an attorney. This is not the case. You do not have to hire the services of an attorney to prepare comments. You or any representative of your organization may prepare and file comments. They may be in the form of a short statement or brief letter. However, comments may also be detailed documents prepared by an outside law firm or your company's in-house counsel.

Why would I work with a lawyer if I didn't have to?

Although the Commission asks for comments or opinions, they really want arguments. Well-argued points are the most helpful to the Commission when it is writing new rules. In the end, new rules must stand the test of petitions of reconsideration by the parties involved, as well as court challenges. Lawyers are great at arguing so they write a lot of comments.

What's the most important thing to include with my comments?

One important thing to remember: You must include the docket number -- or rulemaking number -- on your comments for the proceeding on which you are commenting. If you do not know the docket number, contact the Office of Public Affairs, Public Service Division at 202/418-0260 or the bureau/office responsible for the item. The docket number is critical to make sure your comments are considered, no matter how you submit them.

I'm a Digital Age person; how can I file electronically?

The Commission also accepts comments via email or fax. To encourage participation in the rulemaking process, the Commission is, in specific proceedings, encouraging comments to be submitted via electronic mail. Individuals interested in filing email comments should contact the person listed in the notice or the Secretary's office at 202/418-0300 to see if an electronic mail box has been set up for the proceeding on which you wish to comment.

If you file email comments and would like them to be treated as "formal," please print out your comments and send the original plus four copies to the Secretary's office by the stated deadline. If you cannot get your comments in on time this way, or if it is a choice of commenting informally or not commenting at all, please send your comments however you can and follow up with a phone call to ensure receipt. If you file your comments via email or fax or in the form of a letter without the extra four copies, they will be considered "informal" comments.

You should also be aware that in some instances the FCC has requested copies of comments to be filed on disk in addition to the paper copies. This is of tremendous value because it enables the Commission to make comments available on the Internet„and, therefore, more available to people outside the Washington, DC area. It makes it easier for others to review the record, provide reply comments, and better understand and evaluate the issues.

I'm a people person; can I make a face-to-face presentation?

You are allowed to visit with FCC staff and to make what is called an ex parte presentation. Specifically, any communication directed to the merits or outcome of a proceeding is considered an ex parte presentation.

There are disclosure requirements connected with ex parte presentations:

Any person making an oral ex parte presentation who presents data or arguments not already reflected in that person's written comments, memoranda, or other previous filings in that proceeding must provide an original and a copy of a written memorandum to the Secretary (with a copy to the Commissioner or staff member involved) that summarizes the data and arguments. The memorandum must clearly indicate on its face the docket number of the particular proceeding(s) to which it relates, the fact that an original and one copy have been submitted to the Secretary, and be labeled or captioned as an ex parte presentation. The memorandum must be filed on the date of the oral presentation.

Any person who makes or submits a written ex parte presentation will provide two copies of the presentation to the Commission's Secretary for inclusion in the public record on the same day the presentation is submitted. The presentation must clearly indicate on its face the docket number of the particular proceeding(s) to which it relates, the fact that two copies of it have been submitted to the Secretary, and be labeled or captioned as an ex parte presentation.

The Commission's Secretary will place written ex parte presentations and memoranda reflecting oral ex parte presentations in the public file or record of the proceeding. The Secretary will issue a public notice listing any written ex parte presentations or written summaries of oral ex parte presentations received by his or her office during the proceeding week relating to any nonrestricted proceeding. In nonrestricted proceedings, ex parte requirements are limited to presentations made to decisionmaking personnel.

Be prudent. Contact the FCC staffer connected with the proceeding before planning an ex parte presentation. Staff will let you know if you can make a presentation (some proceedings are restricted) and can clarify the rules.

What is the difference between comments and reply comments?

Normally, when considering rules changes the Commission asks for comments from interested parties and then allows for a period -- approximately 30 days -- when these parties can respond to the comments of others. The initial filings are called comments and the responses are called reply comments.

Where can I get help?

At the FCC:

The Public Service Division of the FCC is available to help individuals with written, telephone, and walk-in requests for information. You can call them at 202/418-0200 or visit them at 445 12th Street, SW, Washington, DC.

At the Benton Foundation:

Benton would also like to offer you help as you file. Visit our website at for frequent updates on what's going on at the FCC. For developments concerning the Telecommunications Act of 1996 visit Also, feel free to contact

Where did you get all this information?

On May 31, 1996, the Public Service Division of the FCC held an open forum called "How to Participate in the FCC Process." Documents disbursed at the forum are available on the FCC website at The Public Service Division also publishes the FCC Information Seekers Guide: How to Find Information at the FCC. This is another great resource for keeping up with the Commission.

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Last updated: 7 January mkh