Why Is D.C. Abuzz Over Michelle P. Connolly?


The gossip gabbers across Capitol Hill are at it again, and two possible contenders to fill the empty Republican Commissioner’s seat on the FCC have reportedly emerged.

According to Bloomberg BNA, the often-mentioned Roslyn Layton — a visiting Fellow with the AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications and Technology Policy — is a leading candidate for a nomination from President Trump.

So is Michelle P. Connolly. Who’s that? We have the answer for you.

Connolly is an economics professor at Duke University. She was the Economics Director of the Duke in New York: Financial Markets and Institutions Program for 2007-2009 and the Director of EcoTeach for several years. She currently serves as the Director of the Honors Program in Economics. From 2009-2011, Connolly became a popular instructor at Duke, earning accolades from her students. Connolly holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Yale University.

Why is Connolly’s name being bandied about across Washington?

Bloomberg BNA cites her strong economics background; Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly wants the Commission to have an economics bureau, similar to how it has a media bureau.

What may seal the deal for Connolly is her pre-Duke experience: She served as Chief Economist of the FCC in 2006-2007 and in 2008-2009, working closely with then-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. Never mind that she was an economist for the International Research Function of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 1996-1997.

As the nomination process is ongoing and she served as a member of the FCC’s transition team, Layton has declined to participate in interviews with RBR + TVBR. Connolly is following a similar no-press tradition.

Connolly’s research and teaching focus specifically on international trade, telecommunications policy, media policy, education, growth, and development.

Interestingly, in 2013 Connolly was awarded a National Science Foundation Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace Grant, “Dollars for Hertz: Making Trustworthy Spectrum Sharing Technically and Economically Viable.”  It is unknown if the Trump Administration’s budget proposal includes cuts to NSF.

With a move from Durham, N.C. to D.C. said to be highly likely, Connolly could become an influential member of the Commission with respect to spectrum issues — and the hot-button topic of net neutrality. In 2011, she testified before Congress and participated in a White House panel on spectrum issues.

Connolly also appeared at the ACLP Advanced Communications 2009 Summit, where she was a panelist and moderator, at the conference on “Wireless Technologies: Enabling Innovation and Economic Growth.”

But the most telling signs that Connolly is a leading candidate for a seat once held by Jessica Rosenworcel is her November 2014 journal article “The 80th Anniversary of the 1934 Communications Act and the Inception of the Federal Communications Commission.”

Then again, the chatter about Connolly isn’t new: Politico noted in May 2013 that Connolly was a top candidate to succeed outgoing Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell. Sources at the time pointed to such other rumored candidates as A.B. Cruz, Ray Baum and Neil Fried.

Thus, D.C. chatter over who Trump will nominate could be simply the unsubstantiated tip-talk during a visit to Stanton and Greene or the Tune In.

Even so, Capitol Hill will undoubtedly keep tuned in to the latest from “people in the know” — regardless if what they know is truly what’s to come in Washington.