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Time Running Out for FCC Tech Act

SBE Plans major push for September

The legislation in Congress that would add high-tech brain power to the staff of each FCC commissioner may not come up for a vote this fall. Senate and House versions of the bill, which would allow each of the five commissioners to hire one additional staff member provided they were a computer scientist or electrical engineer, are still in committee.

Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe introduced S. 611 in May 2011. The measure amends the Communications Act of 1934 to provide commissioners additional technical consultation. However Snowe’s intention to retire at year-end has led supporters to push for a vote before the end of this Congressional term.

The House companion measure is H.R. 2102: FCC Commissioners’ Technical Resource Enhancement Act.

The Society of Broadcast Engineers is a major supporter of the legislation. SBE will lead a contingent to Washington next month to push for quick action.

“SBE has a trip scheduled in early September to meet with key members of Congress in Washington, D. C., to further our efforts to move our bill through the House and Senate before the end of the year,” said SBE President Ralph Hogan.

However, SBE General Counsel Chris Imlay acknowledges in a column that appears in the August SBE “The Signal” newsletter that time is of the essence.

“Our last chance this fall to get H.R. 2102 through the House is ‘on suspension’ (i.e. without the usual hearing and report procedure), but to move a bill that way normally requires that the bill have a large number of cosponsors,” Imlay writes. “In an election year, this is not easy, and we only have four co-sponsors for the House bill now.”

Currently, FCC commissioners can appoint only three legal advisors to advise on wired, wireless and cable/media sectors.

As part of its legislative agenda, the SBE has sought greater technical expertise on the commission for several years.