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Wheeler Says FCC Needs More Engineers

Chairman presses for more IT-related help, infrastructure

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler believes the FCC could use more engineers — and economists. He said so during testimony today before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

It’s been six months since Wheeler has faced lawmakers; he was the sole person to testify during an FCC oversight hearing.

The engineer comment came during an exchange between the chairman and Vermont Democrat Rep. Peter Welch, who simply asked what the commission needs to do its job. “Our IT infrastructure is worthy of being in the Smithsonian,” Wheeler replied, noting the agency has computers “that have known risks.”

The commission can’t provide an easy way for the public or industry to accomplish some tasks online, said the chairman, “because our IT system isn’t up to it.” That’s when he said: “We do need more engineers, and economists, too.”

His definition of engineer includes IT as it does at the station level these days as well. In previous testimony about the latest budget request, Wheeler told lawmakers the agency has more than 200 “relic IT systems” that are costing the agency more to service than they would to replace over the long term.

The commission asked for a total of 1,790 “Full Time Equivalent” positions for FY 2015, which includes an additional 10 such positions for Information Technology programming. Broadcasters would like the agency to have more technology-related personnel too, believing that would make some decision-making affecting the industry to go more smoothly.

Discussion of the agency’s recent open Internet proposal dominated much of the discussion.

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