House Hearing Slated on FCC Office Closures

The House Communications Subcommittee is scheduling a hearing for next Thursday (June 11) on FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal to close down two-thirds (16 of 24) of the FCC's field offices, billed as a way to cut costs and boost efficiency.

That is according to Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.). Walden, himself a former broadcaster, who pointed out that broadcasters had expressed concern about the move. Among those concerns are how that will affect the FCC's ability to monitor and respond to interference issues, particularly with the upcoming repack of TV stations after the broadcast incentive auction.

Walden told reporters Tuesday (June 2) that it was a "tussle" to get the information out of the FCC and that it was "proceeding down this path of closing most of their offices. We have heard from a number of affected organizations, including broadcasters and first responders, about the concerns they have regarding the centralization of the FCC and the lack of local access that will occur."

He said he intends to have someone from the FCC testify as well as other stakeholders.

Wheeler has said the closings would not adversely impact interference monitoring functions. He took some time in his speech to the National Association of Broadcasters back in April to try and quell their fears.

"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 told them. "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."

John Eggerton

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.