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House GOP Members Press Wheeler on Closures

House Energy & Commerce Committee Republican leaders have given the FCC until May 7 to produce documents related to the chairman's proposal to close 16 of 24 field offices.

They want all documents from outside consultants related to the proposed closings as well as any memos or communications related to the Enforcement Bureau and Office of Managing Director recommendation that they be closed.

Broadcasters have questioned that move given the upcoming incentive auction and the need to monitor for interference by wireless operators who will be sharing the band.

“Your proposal to shutter 16 of the commission’s 24 field offices raises significant challenges and concerns," they wrote FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. "The commission has represented to Congress and the American people that it will 'preserve the integrity of public safety communications infrastructure by taking action on 99% of complaints of interference to public safety communications within one day,' yet your proposal to reduce the geographic footprint of the commission appears to ignore the impact this might have on the commission’s public interest goal.”

Wheeler talked at length in his speech to the National Association of Broadcasters earlier this month about the decision.

"I recognize your concern that we may somehow be signaling a decrease in our interference protection, pirate radio enforcement, or other activities important to broadcasters," he said. "Let me assure you that is not the case and we want to work with you to make sure that broadcasters are fully protected."

"We have too many people – good people mind you – whose role in the field has been changed by time. Maintaining the business-as-usual activity, however, costs us (meaning you) almost $10 million a year. Keeping a person in so many field offices costs 2-4 times as much as if we had centralized field offices out of which agents worked," Wheeler told the broadcasters. "Every office requires reception space, a kitchen, a conference room, storage, etc. Allocating that fixed cost across a 2 or 4 person office means unrealistically high overhead costs. And we don’t want those people staying in the office anyway. The agents from 24 offices go to where the problem is – just as the agents from eight offices will do."

Signing the letter to Wheeler were Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.).

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.