Even though current FCC Chair Julius Genachowski has not
announced that he is leaving, there is still much talk about who is being
considered to be his successor. In its
never-ending fascination with the horse race of politics, the trade press has
been throwing out names of the supposed frontrunners every few weeks or
But this focus on names is premature. Before we talk about who will be the next FCC
Chair, there needs to be a conversation on the qualities the ideal candidate
should possess. Because the issues and
controversies that will come before the Commission over the next four years
will be no less contentious than in the previous four.
The next Chair will preside over matters such as the
transition to all IP networks, finalizing the incentive auction and spectrum
screen proceedings, figuring out how to promote broadband competition, and of course, how to
reinstate the agency’s authority (and indeed its relevance) should it lose the legal challenge to the open
Internet rules. This is in addition to
whatever transactions the Commission may be asked to decide by industry.
Is Comfortable as a
So what qualities should the next FCC Chair possess? First
and foremost, the individual must be comfortable in the role of a regulator. This should not be taken to mean that the
Chair should seek to regulate every industry out the yin-yang. But it does mean that where it is necessary
to promote competition and/or protect consumers, the Chair must act, and
decisively, with the understanding that in many regulatory battles there are
winners and losers. And yes, that action should also include deregulation, particularly where regulations protect
incumbents at the expense of competition.
A sound regulator also keeps fights out of the White House. As important as those of us in the telecom
bubble think these issues are, for a President dealing with more fiscal cliffs
and budget ceilings in front of him, agitation to pass laws governing gun
control, immigration reform, and climate change, communications policy issues just
don’t rate. And that’s why we have an
independent FCC – to protect the public interest in those matters.
Understands the Role
The next FCC Chair needs also to understand the role of
Congress, and that body’s limitations given how sharply divided it is. Let’s get real – an Obama FCC Chair is going
to get pounded by the House telecom subcommittee and the full energy and
commerce committee much of the time. The
House may even vote to overrule decisions, like it did in 2011 with the resolution
of disapproval on the open Internet rules.
But the Senate, with more Democrats, a number of whom are very
progressive, will not allow this FCC to be overruled. So there is no need for the next Chair to
negotiate with herself in the fear that Congress will undo what it has
done. This is not to say that the next Chair should
thumb her nose at Congress – Congress is a critical partner for an agency to
accomplish its goals. But the next Chair
needs to recognize that it will be up to the FCC to be the ultimate decider of
the difficult questions that will come before it.
Seeks Greater Public
The next Chair must keep the promise of the Obama
administration to involve the public in policymaking. Since the current Chair took office, there
have been only a handful of field hearings. That must
change. The public input in matters like
network neutrality, the proposed merger of AT&T-T-Mobile, SOPA and PIPA,
shows that ordinary citizens care deeply about the future of our communication
system. Not only is seeking real public
input good government, it also provides a means by which the next Chair (much
like the President himself) can build support for his initiatives.
Is Dedicated to the Institution’s Role as Defender of the Public Interest
You may have noticed that I haven’t as yet mentioned
substance. It will surprise no one that
we believe that the next FCC Chair must be dedicated to and willing to act to
promote, among other things, an open Internet free of gatekeepers, vibrant
fixed and mobile broadband competition, universal broadband access and
affordability, robust video competition, and a mix of spectrum dedicated both
to unlicensed and licensed uses. These
are all principles that formed the basis for candidate Obama’s technology
On the question of whether the next FCC Chair should be female or male, I have been public that it is past time for an almost 80 year old agency to be led by a woman. And without a doubt there are a number of women in the field who possess the qualities described above. But regardless of gender, first and foremost, whoever is ultimately chosen must have the fortitude to defend the institution and its role as the protector of the public interest. The American people
deserve nothing less.