Technical support at the FCC...finally


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Have you often wondered how the FCC makes its rules? Much of what the agency covers concerns technical issues, yet the commissioners are not technical people; they are lawyers. They of course have staffs to advise them on issues, and the various bureaus have a range of talent to cover legal and technical aspects. But the commissioners rely on their staffs for much of their decision-making.

Chriss Scherer

So how does a non-technical person make a technical decision? That's a question that has been asked for many years. The Society of Broadcast Engineers has sought to increase the technical expertise for many years. This concern has finally been addressed by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

In the middle of December, Snowe introduced Senate bill S.2881, which is titled the FCC Commissioners' Technical Resource Enhancement Act. The bill's basic purpose is to provide greater technical resources to FCC Commissioners. The bill is cosponsored by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA).

The bill would amend Section 4(f)(2) of the Communications Act of 1934 to add: “Each commissioner may also appoint an electrical engineer or computer scientist to provide the commissioner technical consultation when appropriate and to interface with the Office of Engineering and Technology, Commission Bureaus, and other technical staff of the Commission for additional technical input and resources, provided that such engineer or scientist holds an undergraduate or graduate degree from an institution of higher education in their respective field of expertise.”

The Society of Broadcast Engineers broke the news of the bill. Just before it was released, Senator Snowe's office contacted the SBE to seek support of the effort. Naturally, the SBE is interested in working with the Senator to support the bill, and do what it can to see a similar bill introduced in the House.

The SBE reminded me that the last serious attempt to increase the technical resources within the commissioner's offices was in October 1991 when Rep. Don Ritter introduced HR. 3501, which would have required at least one member of the Commission to be skilled in the engineering sciences.

It should be noted that Snowe's bill does not seek to replace any of the existing staff assistants in each commissioner's office, but rather authorize each commissioner to add one assistant. In the meantime, the bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Now that the legislation has been introduced, the time is right to ensure that it does not languish. The FCC makes too many important technical decisions, and technology will continue to move forward. It needs the technical shot in the arm this bill seeks.

I expect the bill will go to the subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. The subcommittee has the following members: (Democrats) John F. Kerry (chairman), Daniel K. Inouye, Byron L. Dorgan, Bill Nelson, Maria Cantwell, Frank R. Lautenberg, Mark Pryor, Claire McCaskill, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Udall, Mark Warner, Mark Begich, (Republicans) John Ensign, Olympia J. Snowe, Jim DeMint, John Thune, Roger Wicker, George S. LeMieux, Johnny Isakson, David Vitter, Sam Brownback and Mike Johanns.

This is a good time to contact not only these senators, but all senators and representatives to show that this bill is needed and welcomed.


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