By a 3-2 vote along party lines, the FCC on Tuesday approved the creation of a new Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA) which will oversee the FCC’s spectrum auction program in addition to providing detailed economic analysis in support of rulemakings, transactions, adjudications and other agency actions. Plans to create the OEA were unveiled last spring by FCC Chairman Ajit. According to an FCC news release, Tuesday’s order incorporates proposals from a recent FCC working group staff report that detail how the OEA should function, how the OEA should be integrated into the FCC’s work, and how the OEA should be implemented.
As stated in the news release, the OEA will replace the FCC’s existing Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis and “will use existing staff resources by bringing into one office FCC economists, attorneys and data professionals who will work on economic analysis, data policy and management, and research.” The OEA will consist of four divisions: (1) Economic Analysis, which will provide the FCC with “analytical and quantitative support,” (2) Industry Analysis, which will serve as the FCC’s principal resource “for designing and administering significant, economically-relevant data collections,” (3) Auctions, which will “lead the agency’s work in auction design and implementation, and (4) Data, which “will help develop and implement best practices, processes, and standards for data management to meet the Commission’s needs.” Staffers at the Industry Analysis Division of the Wireline Competition Bureau and at the Auctions and Spectrum Access Division of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau will be transferred respectively to the Industry Analysis and Auctions divisions of the OEA.
Highlighting the importance of a stronger role for economics at the FCC, and bemoaning the fact that FCC economists have often had to work in “policy silos” and “weren’t guaranteed a seat at the policy-making table,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai applauded the establishment of the OEA as “the first official step toward remedying . . . these problems.” As he explained that Tuesday’s order also adopts “new operational practices to make sure economics do in fact play a larger role at the FCC,” Pai also told reporters that “our aim is for the new [OEA] to have a culture of inquiry in which long-range policy research is valued as much as bread-and-butter analysis of our current proposals and orders.” Commissioner Brendan Carr proclaimed that “today’s order might be the most important two-and-a-half page decision the FCC has issued.” Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, however, voiced concern in a dissenting statement that the FCC’s majority “is putting in place a mechanism to justify its own interests, while disregarding any analysis that runs counter to their views.” In support of that notion, Clyburn asserted: “where was the balanced, detailed economic analysis on the impact of edge providers, small businesses and consumers when the FCC majority gutted net neutrality regulations?” Though predicting that the OEA “will positively contribute to the work of the agency,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel voiced dismay “that my most basic questions about what this office will entail have not been answered.” As such, Rosenworcel declared that, “having been refused this basic information, I dissent.”