What, Not Who, Will Matter More at Obama’s FCC

For policy wonks, the time between election and inauguration is sweet — kind of like a fantasy football draft, when everyone tries to figure out who’s going to score the most and the busts to avoid when putting together a new team from scratch. In the small world of things telecom, the hot stove league kicked off in fine fashion today with a BusinessWeek post detailing the short list of fine folks reportedly under consideration to lead Barack Obama’s FCC.

While I joined the conversation about the matter that is earnestly underway over at GigaOM, my further musings on the the subject are a bit more nuanced. As I went through the names and the arguments, it sort of occurred to me that things might be a whole lot different this time around, and so it might not matter as much who it is atop the FCC.


Given the attention the Obama team has already paid to tech and telecom, and the incredible list of task force brainiacs already helping out, it’s doubtful that an Obama FCC chairman will be left alone to wallow as ineffectively as the two most-recent regimes at the commission have done.

And while I did suggest that more, not less, D.C. experience would be my preference for a chairperson’s resume, it is also true that the top spot at the FCC is a high-profile political plum — and one that may be needed to make a statement, or simply used as an award for favors, duties or allegiances that were required to get Obama across the finish line and into the White House. That’s not the most desirable outcome, but neither is it a reason to worry too much.

The difference this time (unlike 2004, when both John Kerry and George W. Bush had almost nonexistent tech platforms) is that even if the FCC chair pick is a result of political football, there is enough interest and importance already placed on tech and telecom not just inside the Obama team but across the Democratic party to ensure that the next FCC won’t be wandering blindly, making silly issues a time-wasting priority. The telecom issues that an Obama administration and a Democratic Congress decide to focus on first — net neutrality, privacy, or broadband deployment — will ultimately matter much more than whoever takes the helm of the FCC, since this already seems like more of a team effort from the start.

That doesn’t mean we still don’t want a Tom Brady instead of a Matt Cassel at the controls. But like with the Patriots, it might matter less in an Obama FCC who’s at the helm since the team seems so strong. As for who it might be, we’ll stick with our prediction from August, when we said that if it’s not Blair Levin, than he will know who it is before anyone else.

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