New FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc is trying to modernize the bureau, bringing it into the modern age and using its resources wisely.
Part of that is thinking about pirate enforcement differently.
LeBlanc discussed pirates with moderator David Solomon, a former Enforcement Bureau chief who’s now a partner at Wilkinson Barker Knauer.
Rampant interference from pirates is something broadcasters are worried is going to get out of hand with the bureau plan to dramatically reduce the number of field bureau offices and field agents. He likened fighting pirates to playing whack-a-mole, where the agency gets a pirate off the air and then he pops up again six months later.
“We need to think about when we take action that [the pirate] is actually off the air and things to prevent pirates ever getting on the air. We want to get to a world where there are no pirates on the airwaves,” said LeBlanc, who added he’s looking forward to working with NAB and broadcasters on that.
The pirate issue is related to the plan to reduce the field offices by more than half and end up with eight.
Morale in the field was low and no one was being replaced in the field offices because of the agency’s “flatlined budget” when he got to the bureau a year ago, he said, adding that “over 50%” of field agents are eligible for retirement now.
Under the proposal, rather than have broadcasters go to different field offices by region with their problems, they would all send them to a field director in Washington. That would be a full-time position, as opposed to one of many duties a deputy chief handles now, according to LeBlanc.
He stressed that the agency will continue to “assess if we need to restructure” the plan as it gets implemented and added “that’s certainly on the table.” He also said the bureau is “actively engaged with NAB” on the proposal.
One small market broadcaster in the audience asked LeBlanc to rethink the field office closure plan, saying that in small markets field offices “are” the FCC, not Washington. “When that FCC inspector comes in, he’s really the voice of God.”
The broadcaster also pressed LeBlanc to give field agents new measurement tools. LeBlanc assured him part of the proposal is to modernize equipment.