FCC Field Plan Redux; Anti-Pirate Policy Discussion Underway

A three-page order issued July 16 lays out the scope of the cuts and next steps. Operating under the assumption that field enforcement “should be concentrated in urban areas where the need for them is greatest,” the order closes 11 of 24 offices outright and will initially result in a net reduction of six employees. These regional offices will be supplemented by two “tiger teams” stationed in Maryland and Colorado.

Going forward, field agents will also need to be certified electrical engineers, and the Enforcement Bureau wants to invest money in “remotely-operated” and portable spectrum-monitoring systems to serve its new primary mission: “the enforcement of the Commission’s radiofrequency interference requirements and other key rules.” Read More

Radio in Times of Crises

When flooding rains pounded Texas earlier this summer, many communities found themselves in crisis. With wired network infrastructures flooded and unusable and power a sometimes-thing draining the battery-packs at cell tower-sites, many Texans found themselves reaching for their radio to find out what was going on.

One area that was hit very hard by the rains was Austin and surrounding towns, including Wimberley, Texas: flash-flooding sent a wall of water down the Blanco River in the Wimberley Valley on Memorial Day weekend that swept away entire structures, killing several people and doing millions of dollars in damage. Just a couple of years earlier, folks there had founded a non-profit organization to apply for an LPFM license. Construction permit in hand, when the rains came and wiped out most other community communications they did not stand idly by. Read More

O’Rielly Encourages War on Pirates

When FCC Commisioner Mike O’Rielly spoke last week to the summer conference of the New York State Broadcasters Assocaiation, he made pirate radio the lead-off topic, sending a clear signal that the Commission is responding to recent Congressional pressure and industry lobbying on the issue. How that response will manifest itself is yet to be determined, but any viable effort will have to involve thinking outside the box about how to be better spectrum-cops.

“Far from being cute, insignificant, or even somehow useful in the broadcasting ecosystem,” said O’Rielly, “pirate radio represents a criminal attack on the integrity of our airwaves, at a time when spectrum has become more scarce and precious than ever before.” He compared unlicensed broadcasters to “poison ivy in a neglected garden” and estimated that nearly one-quarter of all pirates in the country reside in the New York area (data, please!). Read More

FCC Radically Revises Enforcement Drawdown

Three months ago, the FCC announced it was preparing to decimate its Enforcement Bureau by removing half its existing staff from the field and closing two-thirds of its field offices. The proposal, based on a $700,000 study prepared by outside consultants, did not sit well with anybody, and was popularly seen as the FCC effectively abdicating its role as police on the public airwaves.

That is, until last Tuesday, when the FCC announced it was abandoning that plan. There will still be enforcement cuts, but nearly not as draconian. Nine field offices are slated to close (instead of 16) and the agency has pledged to concentrate its field staff in markets where maintaining spectrum integrity is of primary importance. To make up for the offices that will be closed, the FCC will have not one, but two “Tiger Teams” ready for deployment on a short fuse. Even though it was brief, Chairman Tom Wheeler’s statement on the revised plan sounds contrite: “This updated plan represents the best of both worlds: rigorous management analysis combined with extensive stakeholder and Congressional input.”

In simple terms, the broadcast industry lit a fire under Congress about the importance of having something akin to recognizable (if not robust) enforcement activity by the FCC. This is the fruit of a carefully-coordinated lobbying campaign by the National Association of Broadcasters, New York State Broadcasters Association, and New Jersey Broadcasters Association, and the hook they used to make their counterattack on the FCC’s downsizing plan was pirate radio. The subject was mentioned repeatedly in Congressional hearings during which the reduction-in-force came up. And on the day that the FCC announced it was stepping back from eviscerating enforcement, a letter co-signed by more than 30 members of Congress to the FCC was released highlighting “Unauthorized FM Radio Operations in New York City.” Read More

In Face of Downsizing, Are FCC Agents Pulling Back?

Can’t say for sure, but the latest update to the Enforcement Action Database seems to suggest it, as the agency considers drastically cutting their already meager ranks. As of the end of April, there’ve been just 35 enforcement actions against 17 stations in four states. There has been no official report of field activity in May. In 2014, there were 52 enforcement actions in the same time-frame.

2014 saw the lowest level of FCC enforcement activity against unlicensed broadcasters in nearly a decade. Where agents are active, New York continues to lead the way, followed by New Jersey and California. A station in Colorado also got a warning letter this year, but that was a follow-up to a visit last year. Read More