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Summary:

BusinessWeek today has a short list of the people being considered to head up the Federal Communications Commission. The decision as to who will be appointed FCC Chair is a critical one, for in coming years the country faces some major issues that will need to […]

11BusinessWeek today has a short list of the people being considered to head up the Federal Communications Commission. The decision as to who will be appointed FCC Chair is a critical one, for in coming years the country faces some major issues that will need to be addressed head on — not from a corporate, but from a citizen perspective, including Network Neutrality, the availability of broadband, telecom competition and privacy. Among those in the running are:

  • Julia Johnson: Florida consultant and chairperson of the Video Access Alliance who also sits on the board of the networks builder MasTec.
  • Mignon Clyburn: Commissioner for the Public Service Commission of South Carolina and daughter of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.
  • Blair Levin: Managing director at investment firm Stifel Nicolaus and former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt’s chief of staff.
  • Scott Blake Harris: Managing partner with law firm Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis, where he has represented technology and telecom companies.
  • Larry Strickling: Currently works for policy think tank Aspen Institute, a Harvard Law School grad, and previously worked for Broadwing, which was acquired by Level 3.

The Obama team is taking recommendations from former FCC Chairmen Bill Kennard and Reed Hundt, along with Henry Rivera, a lawyer who works for the law firm Wiley Rein and represents companies including AT&T, Verizon, Viacom and Sirius Satellite Radio.

Those three folks, with their links to powerful communication companies, represent the old guard. And that is why I am really scared that we might be getting yet another ineffectual, bureaucratic FCC chair who puts special interests ahead of taxpayer needs. Current Chairman Kevin Martin just happens to be one of the more disappointing of the bunch.

If I had to pick from the above-mentioned short list, Levin and Strickling would be on my short list of candidates. Nevertheless, President-elect Obama should look outside the beltway and find someone who truly represents the taxpayers.

Tom Evslin, who is a retired telecom executive, is the kind of person I would expect to be in the FCC. He knows the machinations of the big companies and at the same time is an Internet liberal who can keep broadband providers and their anti-consumer tricks under check.

Who would you like to see named as chair?

  1. Tom Evslin, absolutely! I’ve read his blog for years. He’d be a great commissioner! How about Carl Ford while we’re at it? Not for chair, but as a commissioner. We need some folks who understand the post-millennial internet era.

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  2. Prof Lawrence Lessig or Jennifer Granick, let’s some folks with a decent tech agenda in there.

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  3. Om:

    I’m flattered but the person who really knows where the broadbandits play is the one who wrote the book. On the other hand, we’d miss you here online:-)

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  4. NickH

    my criterion for Tom is – business guy and an internet libertarian — not too far on the right, not too far on the left. he understands the complexities better than a lot of our other friends. Prof. lessig is great but I am not sure — i fret about people with very close links to Google, which is as much of a devil as some of the telecom incumbents and is using money to get its way in Washington.

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  5. @Tom Evslin

    I have a much bigger debt to pay to the american society and part of that is creating jobs and opportunity for others. more importantly, i don’t have a clue about being politically astute. Tom you are my PICK for this job and I am STICKING to it

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  6. I think Evslin is a superb suggestion, as are several on the BusinessWeek list. However, I’m reporting that Julia Johnson has provided enormous support to bell causes while apparently receiving substantial income from them. My sources include her own Congressional testimony. That would seem to preclude her chances with Obama. Some of statements lead me to distrust her judgment as well. Details coming,

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  7. So, this list is from “someone who knows how Rivera thinks”!

    Does that means this is a for-real leak – or just myth designed to get hits for BizWeek?

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  8. While I think real justice would be served if he took over Ken Tomlinson’s chair as the head of the CPB – I would like to see Bill Moyers running the FCC – Chuck D. on the other hand would provide a breath of fresh air inside the beltway as well … Do we really need another insider there even if he/she is one of our insiders?

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  9. [...] heard that President Elect Obama was mulling over people to chair the FCC. In fact, GigaOM has a write up on this. Too bad I can’t get my name into consideration… Hmm… Maybe, Mr. Obama reads my [...]

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  10. “Outside the Beltway” sounds like a great idea, but the reality of what the FCC still is — lots of bureaucracy and old rules that aren’t going away soon — seems to necessitate the need for someone who has been there, done that, if for no other reason than to keep the non-altruistic forces at bay. Since the FCC right now is still more about politics than technology, more about rural state senators and universal-service fees than really solving the country’s broadband problems, I would vote for someone who knows the ropes and can start fixing the institution from the inside, in step with the well-thought-out plans for the overall Obama technology agenda.

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  11. [...] I joined the conversation about the matter that is earnestly underway over at GigaOM, my further musings on the the subject [...]

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  12. I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry about this whole thread of conversation.

    If you wanted Tom Evslin as FCC chairman, you should have spent the last eighteen to twenty four months sweating away trying to get Obama elected and then maybe, perhaps, possibly you might have gotten in about two cents worth into a dollar conversation, because Hundt and Kennard have been all over the telecom issues for the Obama campaign, both in terms of time and money. Each former FCC Chair had their own motivations for being involved.

    (Yes, I’m cynical).

    Secondly, I’d be mildly shocked if the FCC Chairman wasn’t someone who didn’t already have the FCC secret decoder ring (i.e. had already been at the FCC in some capacity in a previous administration).

    What Paul Kapustka kinda sideswipes here is the revolving door between the FCC and the telecommunications industry law firms here in D.C. If you’re a lawyer, get a job at the FCC, clock in a couple of years, and you’re guaranteed lifetime employment. Sorta like that whole “Circle of Trust” thing – either you’re in the circle or you’re not.

    Michael K. Powell was pretty unique; he didn’t have the decoder ring before he was FCC Chairman. He didn’t do so badly, if you strike the indecency rules enforcements — Net Neutrality, deregulation, love of technology, frequent Best Buy shopper. Gotta love a guy who called TiVO “God’s Machine.”

    Be nice to see him turn back up in Washington working on some good missions…

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  13. This slicing and dicing of potential candidates is nice but irrelevant. Obama will appoint a stooge who regulates anything in sight — primarily talk radio but also the Internet and subscription TV. Since his appointee will cast the tie-breaking vote, it’s going to be a long, dark five-year term for us all.

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  14. Anyone who has listened to current FCC commission member Michael Kopps (Copps?) speak– passionately– about the good work the FCC SHOULD HAVE been doing and how to make things right in the future, would have heard the man I think should be made chairperson of the FCC. The man knows his stuff, is intimately familiar with all of the issues, and falls on the correct side of all of them (against consolidation and against big telco). He is so passionate about this stuff and has been fighting the good fight from within and against the Bushie tide for so many years, that he should finally be given the chair so that he can set things right. He is exactly the kind of person we should have in that position.

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  15. Tom Evslin supported the McCain/Palin ticket. Man of Vision? Not so much.

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  16. Considering Julia Johnson is a lobbyist for Verizon, I would think that would be a conflict of interest.

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  17. Either of them would probably be horrified at becoming part of the “establishment” rather than battling it, but how about Harold Feld or Art Brodsky?

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  18. @Richard Bennett,

    So that doesn’t really say whether he is up for the job or not. I am sure you are equipped to handle the FCC and same goes for Harold Feld. I just think the same-old establishment as mentioned by Paul Kapustka and Doug Mohney are the problem when it comes to issues like this.

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  19. @Om:

    I would be a horrible FCC Chairman, I have no aptitude for administration at all, and neither do my advocacy colleagues such as Harold, et. al.

    Tom’s support of the McCain/Palin ticket speaks to a critical dimension of leadership, political judgment. An FCC chairman who would put the Wicked Witch of Wasilla a heartbeat away from the presidency is the last thing we need in the post-Martin era. The job is too important to entrust to a dabbler.

    The FCC Chairman needs to be someone of moderate temperament and high intelligence, like the President-elect. He needs to keep an open mind, absorb the facts, and make sound judgments on matters that will have public impact for years to come. Whoever it is, he or she had best not be a shoot-from-the-hip advocate. All the people who’ve been fighting over net neutrality are automatically eliminated for being too partisan.

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  20. Om, Its pretty weird. I have been participating on Gordon Cooks advice for the commissioner, and the one thing I would like to see is the Internet be thought of us as the ultimate goal and not minutes, mbs or videos. Just IP.

    At the end of the discussion, I was convinced that very few people are in this camp, so how about an IAB member on the commission or bring J. Scott Marcus back to help us.

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  21. @Om, who said “same old?” Not me. I said someone with D.C. experience — for instance there are lots of folks who were young staffers in the Reed regime who know the ropes but aren’t afraid to think differently. People like Chris Libertelli over at Skype, one of the main movers behind the wireless Carterphone idea. Or other smart minds, like Phil Weiser from CU. Think there is a long list of people with the right experience and new ideas who are not all in lockstep with the Googlers, either. Which I agree is important.

    With all the telecom experience in the Obama camp, I don’t think the FCC chair needs to be an exceptional visionary. Just as Richard B says, open mind, sound judgement. The Democrats as a whole already have enough brainpower and attention devoted to matters telecom to ever let a Martin- or Powell-style regime happen again, at least not for the next four years.

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  22. [...] Om Malik rightly points out the obvious: the Obama team needs to look beyond the Beltway. That said, these choices are encouraging. [...]

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  23. @Paul, the folks you mention have failed to exhibit sound judgment. CU has just gone off all hysterical about cable companies moving their analog customers to digital, which happens to be something the whole country is going through at the moment. While it’s perfectly sensible to free up bandwidth on the cable for higher speed Internet and digital TV, CU is off in weeds reading black helicopters into it, and at the same time ignoring the new AT&T practice of bundling the top tier of Internet service with TV service (see my blog for details.) The public interest isn’t served by misguided campaigns.

    And Skype is scarcely any better: it’s a company that’s never made money and has no prospect of making money because it has neither a product nor a service to sell. So it hides behind this ridiculous Carterphone analogy as an excuse for its lack of capitalistic acumen, seeking to punish those companies that have made actual investments in real infrastructure and services.

    We can do a lot better than paranoid consumer warriors still fighting yesterday’s battles.

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  24. I’d like to see either Michael Copps or Jonathan Adelstein as chair. These two FCC commissioners have been relentlessly in pursuit of the public interest in terms of Net Neutrality, and for pushing back against media consolidation. Pres. Obama should then look outside the Beltway to fill the seat left vacant by either Copps or Adelstein.

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  25. I also fully support either Copps or Adelstein as CHAIR. They fought for us over and above others. Their knowledge and experience would benefit a smooth and immediately effective FCC with their input/selection as to candidate for filling the commissioner vacancy.

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  26. @Richard

    Just when I thought we might actually agree on something for the first time… To clarify, Phil Weiser is at the Silicon Flatirons program at the University of Colorado, not at Consumers Union. (To us alums the school is known as “CU.”) Phil is a law professor and runs in my mind the best telecom/Internet policy event each year; he’s also written extensively on policy subjects, in about the most even manner you can find.

    And Skype may not be the most open (or profitable) company but Chris is a pretty smart guy and strikes me as someone who listens and thinks. My overall point was meant to be that there seems to be a good number of people who have both the skills and knowledge Om seeks and enough D.C. experience to hit the ground running. And I think the chair will need both.

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  27. Oh, that “CU”, now that’s a different story. The Silicon Flatirons program isn’t too bad, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m a bit tired of law professors opining about technology, but I expect I have to get used to it.

    My experience with Libertelli may or may not be instructive. He and I wrote battling Op-Eds for the Mercury News about Net Neutrality before the infamous “Tiger Hearing” at Stanford, where Martin gave Larry Lessig 30 minutes to rail against capitalism before the people who actually know something about networks were allowed to speak (for 8 minutes each.) I write my piece, and the one that ran under Libertelli’s name was actually written by a PR agency. If the guy is so lame that he can’t produce 550 words about his company’s favorite subject without professional assistance, I doubt he can run a major regulatory agency by himself.

    I think it might be interesting to appoint a couple of engineers to the FCC, just for the fun of it. Why should the lawyers have all the fun?

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  28. [...] dean of the telecom bloggers and author of Broadbandits: Inside the $750 Billion Telecom Heist, posted on the importance of the Federal Communications Commission Chair appointment Obama will make as [...]

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  29. [...] the most harm to broadband competition with his backward-looking, telecom-friendly policies. I hope President-elect Barack Obama looks outside the beltway to find the next FCC leader, someone who puts the people before special [...]

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  30. [...] startup accelerator program similar to YCombinator and TechStars. He may not fully represent the outside-the-Beltway perspective that we were looking for, but he does understand two things that should offer comfort to Silicon Valley — startups and [...]

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  31. The next chairman of the FCC should be someone who understands the technology hardware and routing systems of networks, particularly HDTV advancements and optical technologies with broadband wireless. If one does not understand the technology, it is easy to be misled (as the government has been for years) by the Wiley Rein (ATT Verizon, etc..) so called e-security and Rumsfeldt led control over the internet with secondary internet protocol and GPS access through Iridium (satellites). Listen to them and they are all talking about the “virtualization of society”. The Obama administration took the most important step with postponement of the HDTV transition which has “made in China” set top boxes with MUSE C++ analog interfaces which can INTERACT with the human brain. Brain interfaces, telemedicine, and mind control issues are what will quickly become the number one topic, whether it remains a so-called secret or not. This gets back always to the discussions about regulations and security. We cannot afford insecure networks and persons who “pretend” to be in charge of internet security while eavesdropping on competitors and entrepreneurs for industrial espionage and calling it government work. They begged Bush for immunity when he asked for their records. What are they hiding? Richard Wiley of BCCI fame is the last person to be listened to by the Obama administration about the choice of an FCC chairman. By the way, they might want to start with getting rid of the eavesdropping abilities these jokers put into the White House with John Sie and China in conjunction with Ogilvy and the Israeli’s. If Level 3 had not been listening to certain phone conversations as part of the so-called MDA, they would never have known that Broadwing was a good takeover target. Hopefully, they will have better luck than Secretary Rice with the fiber bypass network owned and controlled by Bechtel. If they get it wrong, we could all end up in Howard Stern’s sex shop being forced into “untoward” situations whether we want to or not by Dick Wiley and his group.

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