Broadcasters beg FCC: Don’t close field offices

Broadcasters are opposing the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to close two-thirds of its field offices around the country.

FCC head Tom Wheeler has proposed bringing down the number of field offices the agency has throughout the country from 24 to 8, which he has said is a cost-saving tool that shouldn’t hinder the agency’s ability to do its work.

{mosads}“The field office update is crucial,” he told lawmakers on a House Appropriations subcommittee last week.

“Nobody has looked at it for 20 years. We can cover 80 percent of the U.S. with eight offices … rather than the current 24 offices.”

But the National Association of Broadcasters is pushing back, warning that the plan would “gut” the agency’s eyes and ears and leave it “in the dark.”

“Perhaps it took the proposal itself to help the agency realize just how valuable those who use radio frequencies believe the field offices to be,” Bob Weller, the trade group’s vice president of spectrum policy, wrote in a blog post on Monday.

He warned that the change of pace is coming right as the FCC is encouraging broadcasting companies to sell their licenses to the nation’s airwaves in a massive auction planned for next year, which will require some companies to share spectrum space.

The broadcast industry lobby “supports the concept of spectrum sharing,” Weller maintained, “but a robust mechanism for enforcement is critical to ensure that devices operate only on the frequencies they are authorized.”

Fewer field offices could lead to some unsettling scenes, he warned, if malfunctions occur while companies are trying to share airwaves but the FCC’s cops aren’t on the beat.

“That means disrupted emergency and AMBER Alerts, unreliable police and fire communications, riskier air travel and a host of other scary possibilities,” Weller wrote.

The FCC has rejected the notion that its response times will change.

“Under the proposed approach, the commission would maintain its current commitment to respond to all public safety spectrum issues within one day, anywhere in the country, with the vast majority of the nation reachable within 4-6 hours,” an FCC spokesperson said in a statement.

“If the proposal is adopted, the commission will meet its responsibilities while existing within today’s flat-line budget.”

Updated at 5:55 p.m.

Tags Federal Communications Commission National Association of Broadcasters
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