When a new administration gear up for the transfer of power in Washington, it is common to speculate on the identities of people likely to be tapped for major cabinet posts. Speculation on the FCC is generally a parlor game reserved for the trade press and other specialized observers – but not this time. To be fair about it, the incoming Obama administration seems uniquely focused on a smooth transition and seems no to have overlooked a single niche in the Washington federal infrastructure. But his transition team is loaded with ex-FCC execs and the hunt for new commissioners is well under way.
Communications attorney Andrew Lipman confirmed this impression, telling Ars Technica that this is the fastest he’s ever seen a new administration get around to addressing the FCC.
The big winner figures to be anybody connected with the internet (with the exception of opponents of net neutrality). Broadcasters are already facing an uphill battle to stop an invasion of unlicensed devices into television white spaces, and this hill will likely only get steeper. As for ownership deregulation, broadcasters can pretty much forget any further loosening of the rules, and indeed may find themselves hard pressed make a reality of the top 20 market cross-ownership proposal put forth by a divided FCC last December and now tied up in the courts.
As for cable, Lipman noted that Obama does not seem to be a proponent of a la carte programming, as is current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin; indeed, given Martin’s frosty relationship with the CATV community, he can’t see how a change at the top can be anything but good for cable interests.
First and foremost on the agenda, of course, is the DTV transition. But it’s first and foremost since it has to be done right, no matter who’s in charge at the FCC. That makes it more or less ideologically neutral, so we’ll content ourselves with mentioning it last.
RBR/TVBR observation: No matter who Obama nominates for the FCC, senatorial thumbs are the ones that go up or down, and more than a few nominees have been caught up in process on Capitol Hill. But we’ll say it again – we can’t recall ever seeing this much executive attention paid this early to the FCC.