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FCC Seeks Funds for IT Upgrades, Staff

Copps also wants 10 new interference-busting vehicles at $90,000 per

Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Copps is asking Congress for a slight increase in funding for fiscal year 2010.

Copps seeks $318 million to maintain 2009 service levels in 2010, an increase of about $6 million or about 2%. The increase is needed to offset inflationary increases for salaries, benefits, leasing costs, utilities and other contractual services, he told the Financial Services Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee this week.

Copps also hopes to get $15 million to upgrade the commission’s IT infrastructure. The agency would use the funds to upgrade and integrate its IT systems to make its processes more transparent and easier for the public to access, he said in written testimony.

Some of that money would be used to modernize the commission’s “antiquated” phone system, a problem that results in some expensive long-distance phone bills, and for a more unified licensing system, one now spread out among various bureaus on separate databases.

The commission is requesting an additional $1 million to hire more staff. It’s lost professional expertise because of retirements and other departures, he said. The agency is particularly looking for engineers and economists, but also legal, policy and other professional staff.

The agency’s “Mobile Digital Direction Finding Vehicles” — used to bust radio pirates and others who interfere with broadcast and police, fire department and emergency medical response communications systems — need an upgrade. Copps is seeking $900,000 to buy 10 such vehicles.

The agency needs new digital television equipment. The current analog video equipment used for public outreach at open meetings and field hearings is a decade old, he said. A million dollars would go towards the FCC’s continued DTV efforts. Even after the transition for full-power stations takes place on June 12, the commission anticipate an ongoing need for DTV efforts, he said, not only to handle the aftermath of the full-power transition but to begin addressing the “next” DTV transition — the transition of the thousands of low-power and TV translator stations across the country that are still broadcasting in analog.