FCC Head Defends Plan to Close Most Field Offices

  •                                                     FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
 .courtesy InsideRadio.com       Wed Mar 25, 2015. 

The Maytag repairman would look busy when put up against some agents working in the FCC’s field offices around the country. That’s the picture painted by agency chief Tom Wheeler. In defending a plan to shut all but eight of the FCC’s current 24 field offices, Wheeler yesterday told the House Appropriates Subcommittee that the Seattle office has just one staffer but costs the government $190,000 a year to operate. It’s a high price for handling about one case per week in the Pacific Northwest, he said.

Wheeler thinks the current team of field agents is “too large and too inefficient” to maintain. Having a team to fly-in and use pre-positioned equipment will help the agency “evolve” its mission, Wheeler said. “Twenty years ago when this plan was put together, what the offices did was go out and inspect broadcast records. Well those are online now so we don’t have to do it,” he explained. “They went to make sure the lights were on in antennas. Well there’s now automated monitoring of that.” Wheeler said field agents are primarily focused on interference problems today and that’s something they can drop into a market to resolve.

But some lawmakers aren’t entirely convinced the FCC’s plan will work. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) said her own experience flying back to her district shows just how tough it could be for the FCC’s Maryland-based strike team to reach the West Coast in bad weather. “That’s a major concern for me,” she said.

The National Association of Broadcasters has called the plan to shut field offices “a potentially troubling development” saying they’re “critical to ensuring that consumers receive the services that they expect.”

But in belt-tightening times, Wheeler has delivered a fitting budget. It would cut the number of full-time FCC employees to its lowest level in 20 years. And the agency would have its first lay-off in a decade.





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