SBE members are concerned about the FCC’s plan to restructure its Enforcement Bureau field offices. They want the agency to reconsider the plan and give industry stakeholders a chance to provide their input.
In a letter to Chairman Tom Wheeler and copied to the other four commissioners and House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), SBE President Joe Snelson of Meredith Corp. writes that historically, broadcast engineers have had a “close, positive and constructive” working relationship with the field offices and the has consistently been responsive to interference issues.
However “the field offices are operating at well below efficient levels due to the longer-term effects of hiring freezes and attrition” as senior staff retires, according to Snelson.
Radio World has written extensively about the proposal to reduce the number of field offices from 24 to eight, and cut the number of field agents from just over 60 to about 30.
The SBE views the cuts as “draconian,” and they would have “a substantially adverse effect on compliance in virtually all radio services,” writes Snelson. Indeed, engineers at the recent NAB Show told Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc and Radio World that the random station inspections conducted by field office personnel help keep stations in compliance with FCC rules and regulations.
Snelson writes that the commission can’t prevent interference between stations and other spectrum users without an “active, visible commission presence.” Pirate broadcasting, which is at “epic levels,” provides a good example of this, according to Snelson, who writes that “the longer the pirates are allowed to broadcast undaunted, the more pirate broadcasting there will be.”
SBE has volunteer frequency coordinators who facilitate sharing of broadcast and cable Aux spectrum between and among broadcasters and government agencies; if the field office restructuring happens as proposed, that would make the job of the frequency coordinators “difficult, if not possible.”
The field office closings “should be revisited” after industry stakeholders have had a chance to comment, including SBE, writes Snelson, who says SBE members considers the process by which the plan has been discussed has not been transparent. SBE realizes the commission isn’t obligated by statute to consult the public before it conducts an internal reorganization.
“However, it is fundamentally unfair to those of us who stand to be profoundly adversely affected” to “have no input into the process,” he writes.
Chairman Tom Wheeler recently told Congress the cuts are necessary because the field office structure is 20 years old and too expensive to operate. The bulk of field agent’s time is spent on noncore activities, rather than RF interference issues, he said.
The SBE agrees the field offices could probably make better use of their limited time and resources, with Snelson noting that random station inspections and checking tower fencing or a station’s public files are peripheral functions. “The field office should be targeting spectrum polluters, such as power utilities with noisy power lines, unauthorized RF lighting devices (most especially RF lighting ballasts that preclude AM broadcast reception throughout entire communities at once) and pirate broadcasting,” writes Snelson.
He notes all of these specific problems “plague broadcasters, but the few complaints that are investigated drag on for years” without resolution. That’s because the staffs are stretched so thin they can only concentrate on the highest priority spectrum enforcement field work.
The SBE suggests the commission allow its field agents to telecommute as the agency allows its Washington staff to do, or, have limited field offices with direct reporting for field agents with regional offices and allow the field agents greater autonomy.
Snelson concludes the SBE would like to have a dialogue with the bureau on the issue and urges the chairman to avoid rushing forward with the closure plan.