The U.S. House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), has scheduled a hearing for June 11 to review the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to close 16 of 24 field offices, including the one in Puerto Rico.
The field offices, which were established to help guard against spectrum interference and ensure public safety, act as the FCC’s local agents in fulfilling its mission.
“The FCC’s field offices serve a vital role — they are on the front lines enforcing the commission’s rules protecting public safety communications from interference and acting as the local face of an otherwise centralized Washington bureaucracy. We remain skeptical of the chairman’s pursuit to close these offices and question whether the economic benefits outweigh the public safety value of the field agents,” said Walden.
Late last week, Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board President Javier Rúa-Jovet said the FCC had notified his agency that it would be willing to keep field presence in Puerto Rico, in response to local lobbying efforts launched in March when word first came down of the possible closing.
“As head of the TRB, I am aware of the importance for the island of the permanence of these offices,” Rúa-Jovet said.
“The FCC’s local office manages relevant issues related to compliance with the regulations and standards set by the FCC between stations and industry sectors (television, broadcasters and wireless service providers), as well as avoiding interference from electromagnetic waves, among others,” he said.
However, he acknowledged that the FCC’s wording on its decision was not entirely clear, as the agency said it would “keep the field presence in Puerto Rico” rather than stating that it would “keep the field office open.”
In April, the TRB sent a letter to FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler offering support if the decision was based on budgetary concerns.
“We are open to discuss all options with you and your staff. Such options include, but are not limited to, agreements under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act so that the two Puerto Rico field office agents and any support personnel can operate from the TRB’s facilities, and any other available means by which the field agents can continue serving in Puerto Rico,” said the letter Rúa-Jovet signed.
The closing of the FCC office in Puerto Rico would deprive this island as well as the the U.S. Virgin Islands from “an agile response mechanism to situations that affect public safety broadcasting and telecom carriers.”
The Congressional hearing will require the FCC to provide specific details to support its rationale behind closing the majority of its field offices, including how much it expects to save and how it will go uphold its 24-hour response time performance goal.