Reactions to FCC Enforcement Downsizing

On the heels of some Congressional inquiry into the the FCC’s plan to radically cut its field enforcement resources, the National Association of Broadcasters finally chimed in. In a post titled “Defanging a Paper Tiger” (hm, where have I heard that term before?), NAB VP of Spectrum Policy Bob Weller gave the idea two big thumbs down.
Weller, who joined NAB last year after several years with the FCC working spectrum policy/enforcement issues, says the new proposal effectively undoes a service-cushion implemented by the agency when it last downsized its enforcement resources some 20 years ago: “In 1995, the FCC automated its monitoring station operations, resulting in the closure of more than a dozen field offices with a commensurate reduction in staffing. Some of the remaining offices were converted to ‘Resident Agencies,’ a euphemism for a one- or two-person office with no support staff. At that time, the FCC offered early retirement and a humane personnel relocation program. Increased training, improved technology and a reasonable travel budget were offered as assurances that no reduction in enforcement effectiveness would result.”
Since then, enforcement staff has continued to shrink, primarily as agents have retired over the last decade and qualified replacements are hard to come by. Weller also notes that even if one were to give credence to the “tiger team” that will backstop the 33 agents who would remain deployed in the field, “the proposed staffing numbers just don’t add up. People take leave, training takes time, on-scene investigations mean in-office paperwork. So, the actual number of field agents available for assignment on a typical day might be half the total, or 16. Sixteen pairs of boots on the ground, doing field investigations for the FCC for the entire country. Think about that.”
What about the FCC’s notion that it might rely on private-sector outsourcing of particular enforcement duties? We already know the broadcast engineering and amateur radio communities have their fair share of zealots who fox-hunt pirates for fun and would just love to take ’em down. Not so fast, says Weller: “Even if the affected user is able to identify the source of the problem, there is no right of private action in the Communications Act that could force the source [to] shut down. State and local law enforcement are reluctant to take on interference or unauthorized transmitter cases due, understandably, to lack of expertise. FCC field staff possess the expertise and have sole authority to investigate and enforce laws relating to radio.”
The planned downsizing is also causing a bit of a stink among rank-and-file FCC field staff, one of whom tells Radio World that the agency’s guarantee of a 4-6 hour response-time using its tiger-team approach is “a BS statistic.” In simple terms, there’s a big difference between acknowledging an interference problem exists and doing something concrete to stop it.
I can see the NAB’s well-oiled lobbying machine gearing up to combat this plan on two fronts: putting Congressional pressure on the FCC to abandon or dilute its planned cutback, and working with state broadcasters’ associations to get more anti-pirate radio laws on the books.

One thought on “Reactions to FCC Enforcement Downsizing”

  1. I am very, very disturbed on this downsizing the number of FCC EB Field Agents who are able to use mobile RDF’ing and was able not long ago had fixed RDF stations where one could call them up and have station agent to RDF and others mobile and or other fixed points getting true location(s).
    It makes no sense at all when the US population is shooting up. The internet and back shops are increasing their illegal means out there for Pirate stations, bootleggers, and even the illegal equipment makers making monies illegally these type of devices to people using the airwaves that cause harmful and intentional interference(s). I know of a recent retired Field Agent and soon another are quite deeply saddened by this so-called “fat” cutting by one man at the helm. One whose done business for the big time moguls and nil for the little guy.
    I’ve been a licensed Amateur(“Ham) since the mid 70’s and can easily see the bigger picture like my fellow Amateurs do angrily and frustrated but with little voice for the ones to listen to. It’s not life threatening nor bothering the big radio/TV moguls. They come first!
    I have used the so-called “new” improved FCC Internet filing systems and can tell you it is and big joke. Mr. Wheeler for example mentions one agent in Washington maybe handling one case per week. Duh! But FCC says it recives thousands of complaints. THOUSANDS!!! But when you file a complaint via their new improved system(s) again the FCC says it receives thousands of complaints… What’s wrong with his number(s) vs. the numbers the FCC says is filed that they can’t handle all at once? Should be some more staff to do this shouldn’t there?
    In my honest opinion if you’ve filed on their again the newer improved FCC EB complaint filing system(s-plural for their past and present ones) your destined for them to be collecting digital dust. In fact ,they use the excuses now if it is non- life threatening or is not and immediate emergency problem it will be put on a back burner. And it gets burned for sure!
    If some bootlegger, intruder or a Pirate station is using a dirty non-approved linear power device made and sold illegally in the good ‘ol US of A by which it has no the FCC’s OET approval at all which by the way is another branch of the FCC they want to privatize like a militaristic Black Water Security deal your not going to get anything done. Forget about certain licensed operators not following the rules of using super, super obscene profanity, playing broadcast commercial recordings, music, animal sounds, ET cetera or causing interference to others it will either be done in yearzzzz down the road or not at all.. Considered non-life threatening. Maybe will do something about it in five to 10 years.Maybe Like K1MAN… Great example of a snails pace action!
    Wow! The new improved RDF facility centralized in Columbia, MD they call the “Farm” by the way..what a super big joke of a waste of tax payers dollars. The NSA could of done a better job of locating and getting something done.
    I’ve re-filed on a few equipment manufacturers, plus shops, and they are now at and over five years old using the new improved filing systems(plural)and on the exact same ones and absolutely nil on the FCC doing anything about them. NIL! I was told by one Filed agent he wanted to busts these guys and hated seeing them get by with this but his boss…you get that ? His boss won’t let him act on them.
    Personally, I think and strongly feel this that they should split the FCC up. One for its original purpose of radio and which later came radio with video new agency recreated strictly and only radio and TV including wireless frequencies. The other for telephone and internet “ONLY”.
    Furthermore, there definitely should be and increase of electronics and radio trained Filed Agents. Mr. Wheeler makes absolutely no sense increasing filed agents. Everyday I go home I have harmful radio blackout s alone from power lines. I can turn my set on and about every single night I can guarantee the same bunch of bad operators I have two complaint numbers using the so-called ‘NEW” improved filing systems are on with their X-rated obscenity and other.
    Who is going to replace the ones that are trained experts being forced out in a “nice” way of this ridiculous downsizing? Cheaper office space are no problems but this totally ridding the general locations is plain stupid. This is like doing away with a three car garage for one car and leaving it out 100% in the elements like hail or other. it is much like the Post Office closing offices and now nobody has a close office to go to purchase stamps, ship packages and so on. They resort to the little more expensive private outfits for packages. I can[‘t understand why they don’t relocate in other Federal offices. Can not tell me there isn’t any available realistic spaces out there. Mister Wheeler excuses just don’t wash all the way clean. It just don’t mathematically with a huge growing population with more increasing problems and I’m a witness personally to that.
    Last, the Office of Engineering and Technology.. a another great example how it will be ridiculous to allow privatization. You honestly believe privatized Field Agents and also RF Engineering Agents will not be biased or prejudiced to the ones with the most money out there to look the other way.
    Can you imagine a hired privatized agent like a Eric Snowden be the ideal agents ? Usually, people who take and oath to and office as their full time life job will be more to do what they are sworn to do. But this downsizing has created the opposite goals for the general public. The little guy is totally left out of the picture and it’s all about Internet services and big telephone competition and so on. Not the little guy.

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