The politics of picking the next FCC chair


FCCIt will be virtually impossible for President Barack Obama to pick a new chairman for the Federal Communications Commission that will please everybody with an interest in the matter. At blog Hillicon Valley, they’re going so far as to call issue a minefield.

Many watchdog organizations have weighed in on the topic, and generally are seeking an FCC Chairman who will do a better job of protecting consumers, increasing diversity of media ownership, holding the line on consolidation and preserving network neutrality, among other things.

On the other hand, the most frequently mentioned candidate, according to Hillicon Valley, is Obama fund-raiser and venture capitalist Tom Wheeler. He has experience with a pair of relevant associations that have been at loggerheads with the NAB lately. Wheeler once headed NTCA, and although it’s been awhile – in the 30-year range – the cable interests the organization represents are dueling with broadcasters over the rules governing retransmission consent.

The other organization Wheeler has been associated with, CTIA, is currently trying to snag as much broadcast television spectrum as it possibly can for the use of its members.

The consumer watchdog community is said to be too close to the industries with a stake in current FCC proceedings to effectively safeguard the interests of consumers, although his supporters discount this claim.
Other possibilities, according to Hillicon Valley, include Karen Kornbluh, who worked at the FCC many years ago, and NTIA head Larry Strickling. Both are said to be middle-of-the-road candidates.

Current FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel just received support from a number of Democratic senators and has worked for both Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and the FCC. Hillicon Valley notes a particular argument in her favor – as a sitting commissioner, she would not have to go through the Senate confirmation process – allowing Obama to submit a Democrat and Republican simultaneous for equal footing as regular commissioners.

It would require leap-frogging Rosenworcel over her senior colleague Mignon Clyburn, but the argument for doing that, according to the report, will be Clyburn’s lack of either a legal or technical background.
Stay tuned.