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FMC Announces Issuance of Circular Letter and Impending Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Concerning Public Access to Tariffs

April 6, 2000

FEDERAL MARITIME COMMISSION

FMC ANNOUNCES ISSUANCE OF CIRCULAR LETTER
AND IMPENDING ADVANCE NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING
CONCERNING PUBLIC ACCESS TO TARIFFS

NR 00-08

Washington, D.C. 20573

CONTACT: Austin L. Schmitt, Director, Bureau of Trade Analysis, at (202) 523-5796

FOR RELEASE: April 6, 2000

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 1998 ("OSRA") requires carriers and conferences to publish their rates in private, automated tariff systems and requires these tariffs to be made available electronically to any person, without limits on time, quantity, or other such limitation.

The Commission recognizes that several carriers, conferences, and tariff publishers have published electronic tariffs in accordance with OSRA and our implementing regulations. We appreciate those efforts and all attempts that have been made to improve tariff publication systems. The Commission has found, however, that some tariff systems appear to limit the public's ability to access tariffs. Certain systems fail to contain required user instructions, or publish incomplete instructions. Others do not contain an alphabetical commodity index, or render commodity description searches impermissibly difficult. Still others pose problems relative to access to historical tariff information, and certain systems require an inordinate amount of time to download information or are exceedingly slow in moving between system functions.

The foregoing represent the more persistent problems the Commission has encountered in its statutorily-required review of carrier tariff systems. The Commission encourages public users to notify the Bureau of Trade Analysis of any problems they have experienced in accessing tariff systems. At this point, the Commission has issued a circular letter to all carriers, conferences and publishers of tariff systems in hopes of rectifying these problems. We plan to work with the industry and to offer our assistance so as to ensure appropriate public access to electronically published tariffs. However, we have made it clear to all responsible for publishing tariff information that we intend to implement the corrective action necessary should our informal attempts to achieve statutory compliance prove unsuccessful. The Commission voiced its hope that the industry will cooperate to ensure that tariffs are the information tools envisioned by OSRA.

Additionally, the Commission announced that it soon will be issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("ANPR") to address the level of fees acceptable for accessing carrier tariff systems. The Commission's review indicates that certain publishers effectively may be limiting the public's access to their tariffs due to excessive fees or monthly minimum requirements. The ANPR will seek interested parties' views on an initial proposal to limit the fees that may be charged for public access.