Wednesday, June 10, 2015

FCC To Keep 15 Field Offices Open

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
The House Energy & Commerce Committee has struck an agreement with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that will keep 15 of the FCC's 24 field offices open.

The budget plan had included closing 16 of the 24 offices, saying that was a way to save money without adversely impacting interference monitoring.  However, some House members, including ones in districts where offices were closing, were not convinced, and broadcasters were concerned given the interference monitoring the FCC will have to do when it repacks stations and wireless operators after the incentive auction.

“Communities across America will continue to be served even as the commission becomes more efficient – it’s a win-win,” said full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in announcing the agreement. “It also demonstrates how much we can accomplish when we work together to tackle the many tough issues we face.”

According to the agreement:
  • The FCC will maintain field offices and/or personnel presences in Portland (OR), Denver, Boston, New Orleans, Hawaii, Anchorage and San Juan, previously slated for closure. (NYC, Columbia (MD), Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, LA, and SF were already "prodected.)
  • Kansas City will get a "rotation" of FCC field staff visiting once a month for a few days.
  • Equipment will be prepositioned in KC, SLC, PHX, SEA, and Billings, MT.
  • The FCC will deploy two "tiger teams," one on the East Coast and a second team in Denver.
  • The FCC will employ a new, defined escalation process for RF complaints.
  • Chairman Wheeler has agreed to step up enforcement on pirate radio stations, including holding a roundtable with broadcasters within 30 days.
  • Any money saved by the closing of field offices will go to field operations.
"These changes will keep field offices open in strategic locations and help ensure that the commission can fulfill its responsibilities to the public and public safety communities," added Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

The deal was a victory for the National Association of Broadcasters, which had challenged the closures.

"NAB thanks the many members of Congress who expressed concern over proposed cuts in FCC field offices," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton, "and we applaud Chairman Wheeler and his staff for resolving this issue in a manner that better protects against airwave interference. We also salute Chairman Wheeler's willingness to address the rampant growth of pirate radio, which creates significant interference challenges for radio listeners who rely daily on their legally-licensed hometown stations."

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