Or just ACs.

Maybe you’ve heard the term “FCC Advisory Committee” and wondered what it means. Or maybe you’ve read about a particular one of the FCC’s Advisory Committees and wondered what it does. Here’s an answer to your questions.

Jeffrey KraussAny government agency can create an advisory committee under the terms of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Advisory committees (ACs) provide public input and expert advice to government officials, at little or no cost to the government. Openness and membership diversity are required. Some of the FCC’s ACs are required by specific laws, and others were created by the agency to meet specific needs. AC members are appointed by the FCC after going through an open nomination process, where FCC staffers review the backgrounds and qualifications of nominees with respect to the particular AC’s responsibilities.

The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) required the FCC to create two ACs – one dealing with access to emergency information and one dealing with other aspects of video programming.

One is the Emergency Access Advisory Committee (EAAC). The FCC expects a migration to a national IP-enabled emergency network, which it calls Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1). The purpose of the EAAC is to advise on the most effective and efficient technologies and methods by which individuals with disabilities can have access to NG 9-1-1 emergency services. In 2011, the EAAC conducted a nationwide survey of individuals with disabilities and prepared a report on that survey. It developed recommendations for achieving equal access to emergency services by individuals with disabilities. The EAAC recommendations were submitted to the FCC in December.

The other AC required by the CVAA is the Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee (VPAAC). The purpose of the VPAAC is to develop recommendations on closed captioning, video description, and accessible program guides and menus. One focus is delivery of closed captioning on Internet programming. Another focus is video description and emergency information, both on television programming delivered using IP and on digital broadcast television. And another focus is accessible user interfaces on video programming devices, including program guides and menus. VPAAC has submitted a report on closed captioning of IP-delivered programming and maintains a semi-official Wiki site.

But then the FCC has a whole slew of additional ACs.

For example, the Intergovernmental Advisory Committee (IAC), formerly known as the Local and State Government Advisory Committee, provides guidance to the Commission on issues of importance to state, local and tribal governments. The IAC is composed of elected and appointed officials of municipal, county, state and tribal governments. The IAC provides ongoing advice and information to the Commission on issues such as cable and local franchising, public rights-of-way, facilities siting, universal service, broadband access, barriers to competitive entry, and public safety communications.

Then there is the Consumer Advisory Committee. The purpose of this AC is to make recommendations to the Commission regarding consumer issues within the jurisdiction of the Commission and to facilitate the participation of all consumers in proceedings before the Commission.

And there’s the Advisory Committee for Diversity in the Digital Age, whose mission is to make recommendations to the FCC regarding policies and practices that will enhance the ability of minorities and women to participate in telecommunications industries.

A more technical group is the Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) Technical Advisory Committee. The mission of the ERIC AC is to advise on policies that will lead to nationwide interoperability in deployment and operation of the 700 MHz public safety broadband wireless network (formerly TV channels 52-69). Each appointee of the ERIC Technical Advisory Committee is either a federal official or an elected officer of a state or local government, or a designated employee authorized to act on behalf of such an officer.

And there is the World Radiocommunication Conference Advisory Committee, which provided the FCC with industry and public views and recommendations in preparation for the World Radiocommunication Conference 2012 (WRC-12).

Finally, there is the FCC Technology Advisory Council, “comprised of a diverse array of leading experts that helps the FCC identify important areas of innovation and develop informed technology policies supporting America’s competitiveness and job creation in the global economy.” Although ACs are supposed to have a term of two years, an AC can be renewed an indefinite number of times. The FCC’s Technology Advisory Council has been kept alive since the 1990s, with little value to show for it.

While some of the FCC’s ACs have produced tangible results (for example, the FCC’s Advisory Committee on Advanced Television Service did the testing and analysis that led to the current digital television system in the U.S.), all I can say about the Technology Advisory Council is that it just keeps floating along.