FCC Scales Back Field Office Closure Plan

WASHINGTON – Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced an agreement with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler to amend the FCC’s plans to close field offices.

“The revised plan will keep 15 of the FCC’s 24 field offices open, ensure better rapid response capabilities for the West, provide a mechanism for escalating interference complaints, improve enforcement of the FCC’s rules against pirate radio operators, and prevent the commission from transferring field office jobs to the FCC’s Washington, D.C. headquarters,” the lawmakers said in a release.

Radio World‘s Leslie Stimson broke the news in March that the commission was planning to close as many as 16 of its 24 field offices, and reduce the number of field agents from 63 to 33. The field offices to remain open were in or near New York City, Columbia, Md., Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

On April 23, Radio expert Robert Gonsett wrote that the drastic cutback of field agents could lead to “RF anarchy,” particularly at a time when radio pirates are popping up like prairie dogs.

“Here in southern California, for example, the San Diego field office would close and the Los Angeles office would carry significant new responsibilities by watching over perhaps six or seven states including Hawaii while at the same time operating with a skeleton crew. So drastic are the anticipated cuts that the staff would only have time to handle public safety interference cases and little else,” Gonsett said.

That same day, Energy and Commerce leadership questioned the wisdom behind closing so many field offices and scolded the FCC for providing minimal documentation to support its decision.

“Your proposal to shutter 16 of the commission’s 24 field offices raises significant challenges and concerns,” said full Committee Chairman 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.) in a letter to 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 percent 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. Our concerns have only been heightened by the commission’s failure to provide all the information requested by the committee.”

“Communities across America will continue to be served even as the commission becomes more efficient,” Upton said. “It also demonstrates how much we can accomplish when we work together to tackle the many tough issues we face.”

“We found a good solution that makes sense. These changes will keep field offices open in strategic locations and help ensure that the commission can fulfill its responsibilities to the public and public safety communities. This agreement strikes a balance between the important work of FCC field agents and streamlining field operations to ensure the efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” Walden said.

The National Association of Broadcasters also weighed in with a statement:

“NAB thanks the many members of congress who expressed concern over proposed cuts in FCC field offices, and we applaud Chairman Wheeler and his staff for resolving this issue in a manner that better protects against airwave interference. We also salute the Chairman Wheeler’s willingness to address the rampant growth of pirate radio, which creates significant interference challenges for radio listeners who rely daily on their legally licensed hometown stations.”