A plan to close up to 16 Federal Communications Commission field offices has many in the radio and television industry worried. Broadcasters fear that the FCC’s ability to investigate and solve interference disputes as well as combat pirate radio stations will be greatly slowed and diminished if the proposed changes go through.
As reported in Radio World, the FCC not only plans to close two thirds of its field offices but also reduce the number of field agents almost in half, from 63 to 33, the number of directors from 21 to five and cut other support staff. A “tiger team” of agents would be centered in Maryland. This team would be sent out to respond to high value initiatives of the Enforcement Bureau. Equipment used to do field work would be strategically placed throughout the country.
With an increasingly crowded spectrum, television operators are increasingly susceptible to interference. Electronic newsgathering operations as well as the licensed wireless microphones for television and radio will be asked to share spectrum with other unlicensed devices and interference will be more prevalent. In order to resolve interference issues, the FCC has to take measurements. With the closest team being in Maryland (if they’re not already assigned elsewhere in the country) the response time for interference complaints will be likely to hurt broadcasters.
The second problem is keeping illegal pirate radio stations off the air. While this is mainly a problem for highly urban areas like New York City, Miami and to a lesser extent Boston, the ease of obtaining equipment in 2015 will allow pirates to operate easily and cheaply anywhere in the country. The FCC has often been slow to act on pirate stations with current staffing levels, the prospects of shutting a pirate down with fewer offices and field agents dims considerably. Even if the NHAB were to assist the FCC in tracking down and monitoring pirate radio broadcasts, the FCC still has to collect its own data in order to take action.
Your Association is exploring options to ensure the FCC maintains its ability to mediate interference problems and combat pirate radio operations in the future. With the upcoming television spectrum auction and repack upcoming in 2016, interference will only grow in the future. If you have something to add to this issue, please email Jordan@nhab.org.