The Media Bureau is back! Did YOU miss it? WE did.

Looks like the successful hack of the FCC’s computer network in September, 2011 – which we reported on back in February – may have been more intrusive than the government has let on so far. In an unusual public notice, the FCC has acknowledged that the entire Media Bureau apparently went missing sometime in the late summer/early fall of 2011. The agency’s internal computer records reflect that, as of October 1, 2011, all traces of the Media Bureau – historically one of the hardest working and most productive operations within the agency – had been purged from all Commission systems.

As a result, there have been no references to the Bureau on the FCC’s website for the last 18 months or so. The disappearance was apparently not noticed by visitors to the website. We’re guessing that that’s because, thanks to the redesign of the site, those seeking the Media Bureau pages generally gave up in frustration, assuming that the Bureau’s pages (a) were there somewhere, but (b) had been buried so deeply behind various blogs, dashboards, consumer notices and other higher priority matters that they could not, as a practical matter, be located through routine search techniques. (Vestigial cached versions of Bureau materials, including some CDBS records, apparently remained accessible from some computers external to the FCC’s systems, creating the comfortable illusion within the private sector that all systems were still go and things were still Business As Usual within the Bureau.)

While the Commission’s notice stops short of explaining exactly what happened, there’s plenty of solid information from which we might cobble together a reasonable theory.

We all know – thanks to the GAO – that the FCC’s network was successfully hacked sometime around September, 2011. One could easily conclude that, while ham-handedly mucking around in the Commission’s electronic viscera, the hackers inadvertently deleted the Bureau. That kind of thing happens all the time.

Another possibility: the hackers specifically targeted the Bureau, unleashing malware to lock up its files with the goal of extracting a ransom payment in return for the key to unlock the files. Far-fetched? Maybe, but don’t forget that (a) very shortly after the hack in 2011, the Commission put the arm on OMB for $10 million in emergency funding supposedly to prevent future hacks; and (b) the GAO has concluded that, whatever the FCC did with the cash, the Commission’s network still hadn’t been fixed as of January, 2013. Hmmmm. Where might that money have gone? We’re just sayin’ . . .

The kidnap/ransom theory would also explain why the Commission, despite its supposed devotion to “transparency”, never bothered to acknowledge that the Bureau was missing until now. Such an acknowledgement could have jeopardized delicate negotiations aimed at securing the return of the files intact.

On the other hand, it’s also possible that the disappearance of the Bureau was a phenomenon inflicted by the Commission on itself. Under this theory, the Bureau’s files were inadvertently deleted – perhaps by folks working on the redesign of the Commission’s website – and the rest of the Commission simply didn’t miss them. With the agency’s overwhelming focus on mobile broadband over the last several years, the Eighth Floor probably hasn’t had much occasion to reach down to the Media Bureau lately, so the Commissioners and their staffs might not have been aware that it was gone.

But the FCC’s monomaniacal fixation on its Mobile Broadband Uber Alles initiative may also have been the key to restoring the Media Bureau. With development of the incentive auction processes kicking into high gear in late 2012, access to the Bureau’s TV records – for the purpose of relabeling them as mobile broadband files – suddenly became imperative. That would have increased pressure to get the Commission’s hands back on those records, whether by negotiation with malefactors or reconstruction from the FCC’s recycle bin.

However it came to pass, we’re glad to have the Bureau back.


Happy April Fool’s Day!!!