Travis LeBlanc, the new FCC Enforcement Bureau chief, is trying to modernize the bureau and use its resources more wisely.
In the past year, one of its highest-profile ac- tions was against Marriott, which was blocking guests’ personal hotspots and Wi-Fi at a resort in Tennessee in order to make them pay for the hotel Wi-Fi, he said. It was the agency’s first such blocking case, according to LeBlanc.
The upshot? Now, “almost every hotel chain has gotten rid of that type of blocking” for members of their rewards programs, he said.
Another high-profile case involved a telephone compa- ny in California that rerouted all 911 calls to voicemail for several months. The agency stopped that. “We can’t have 911 susceptible to voicemail,” said LeBlanc.
Turning to broadcast issues, LeBlanc told moderator and former Enforcement Bureau Chief David Solomon that the commission now doesn’t turn every complaint it receives into a case; it takes many things into consideration, including input from broadcasters, in order to make decisions faster.
As for indecency actions, LeBlanc joked that he doesn’t enjoy the Super Bowl or awards ceremonies as much now that he’s the bureau chief, “because I’m always worried!” He referenced recent indecency actions, most notably an approximately $20,000 broadcast enforcement in New York on Tuesday.
Then he turned to radio piracy and to broadcaster concerns that the pirate problem will be exacerbated by a bureau plan to reduce the number of field bureau of- fices and agents dramatically. He likened fighting pirates to playing Whac-a-Mole; the agency may force a pirate off the air but it turns up again six months later. “We want to get to a world where there are no pirates on the airwaves,” said LeBlanc, who said he’s looking forward to working with the NAB and broadcasters on that.
He characterized the management of field offices as “one of the most challenging [issues] for me” and said he grappled for months with the question reducing their footprint. The current plan is to reduce the number of offices by more than half, to eight. But morale in the field was low, he said, and no one was being replaced in field offices thanks to a “flatlined budget” when he arrived. He said that “over 50 percent” of field agents are eligible for retirement.
Under the proposal, broadcasters would send problems to a field director in Washington rather than regional offices. This director would be a full-time person, he said, whereas the work is one of many duties a deputy chief handles now, according to LeBlanc.
He stressed that the agency will continue to “assess if we need to restructure” the plan and said “that’s certainly on the table.” He said the bureau is “actively engaged with NAB” on the proposal. One small-market broadcaster in the audience asked LeBlanc to rethink the office closure plan, saying that field offices essentially are the face of the commission for many broadcasters. “When that FCC inspector comes in, he’s really the voice of God.”