The winner of TVNewsCheck's first Technology Women to Watch Award, Media Bureau Chief Engineer Alison Neplokh joined the commission in 2002. Now, she's responsible for, among other things, keeping agency staff up to speed on the technical aspects of the TV spectrum incentive auction.
Neplokh Is Media Bureau’s Auction Expert
If Alison Greenwald Neplokh isn’t yet on every broadcaster’s radar screen, she probably should be, because as chief engineer of the FCC’s Media Bureau, she has the ear of the top agency officials on the technological aspects of media-related issues.
One of Neplokh’s current assignments, for instance, is the agency’s plans to hold an incentive auction to free up TV spectrum for smartphones and other wireless device next year—an issue that is having a major impact on broadcasters.
“She is one of the most crucial and integral individuals on our team,” says William Lake, FCC Media Bureau chief. Lake promoted Neplokh to the chief engineer position in June 2010 after she impressed him with her work during the broadcast industry’s transition from analog to digital TV. “She displayed the same breadth of expertise and innovative abilities in that role as she does today,” he says.
“The key thread is that I help my bureau chief [Lake] and the commissioners understand the technological nuances so they can make informed policy decisions,” says Neplokh, who is an attorney as well as an engineer.
Neplokh, 33, says that part of her job is to meet with lobbyists and other industry representatives, sometimes logging four meetings in a day. “While the meetings can get time consuming, they can be a valuable way to learn more about the technologies we regulate and to dive deeper into the arguments on the record, and usually it is time well spent,” she says.
Neplokh, who graduated from college in 2001, first joined the FCC as an electronics engineer in 2002, after a brief tour of duty as a research systems programmer for her alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and a year as a software engineer for Ericsson IP Infrastructure in Rockville, Md.
Neplokh says she took a course on telecommunications policy while studying engineering in college, and the class whetted her interest in working at the FCC. “When I applied to the FCC, it was just through the FCC website,” she says. “The job listing looked interesting so I just went for it.”
Neplokh, who attended Georgetown University Law Center at night while working days at the FCC, says she became interested in engineering at an early age, partly through her engineer father. While she took ballet lessons and was a Girl Scout, she preferred Legos and tinkering with computers to Barbie dolls, she recalls.
“I really like to know how things work. I can’t stand it when something breaks and I have no clue how to troubleshoot it. I might not always be able to fix everything, but I like to try.”
She says that even though the vast majority of engineers are men, she never felt that her engineering ambitions were discouraged because of her gender. “Fortunately, all of my teachers, friends, family, co-workers and supervisors have always been very supportive,” she says.
“Women who are interested in engineering should not be discouraged by the ratios [of men to women] or by anything that makes it seem like engineering is unladylike,” Neplokh adds. “It’s a great field, and if you’re interested you should just go for it.”
She says she decided to add a lawyer’s credential to her resume because she thought it would be useful. “The FCC is certainly dominated by lawyers, and I think being able to speak that language is great,” she says. “And I’ve always been fascinated by the legal aspects of what we do here.”
Neplokh is married to an engineer who has a job in the private sector. She doesn’t have kids but does have a dog, JD, an Italian greyhound. “She was my law school graduation gift to myself, so that’s why she’s called JD,” says Neplokh, who also enjoys photography.
What’s next for Neplokh? “I would take a look at opportunities as they arise,” she says. “I really like the FCC. I think it’s a great place to work. But I don’t try to predict the future.”
TVNewsCheck’s Technology Women to Watch Award recognizes up-and-coming women engineers in radio, TV and digital media.
Neplokh along with Wendy Aylworth, SVP of technology for Warner Bros. Technical Operations, will be honored at a reception at 6 p.m. on April 9 in Room N115, Las Vegas Convention Center, during the NAB Show. Aylworth is the recipient of the Women in Technology Leadership Award, which recognizes women who have contributed significantly toward advancing their industry technologically.
TVNewsCheck’s Women in Technology Awards program supports the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation’s Technology Apprenticeship Program, which places young engineers who are women or people of color in broadcast industry internships.