The race to be FCC chair now well under way
Apr 19, 2013
That decision lies with President Obama and he faces at least as difficult a communications terrain as he faced four years ago when he appointed Genachowski.
In fact, if anything, things have become slightly more bitter, twisted and left/right partisan over the period. The argument over network neutrality, for instance, has not been resolved and opinions and positions seem to have hardened, especially on the right which sees net 'regulation' as some sort of collectivist bogeyman.
The task of choosing a candidate who might be able to find and walk some sort of fine line between the pro net neutrality/pro consumer position on one side, and the pro business/anti-regulation position on the other without being vilified by either side is a tough one.
In this context, the idea that Tom Wheeler, who is the former head of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), might be the candidate for Obama starts to make sense.
While on the one hand Wheeler is an industry insider (not normally the person a left-leaning president might choose to steer an industry that badly needs to get out more), but as in insider he at least has a claim to an understanding of the landscape. If big changes in approach are needed over M&A, competition policy and the like, then an ex-insider like Wheeler is often best placed to bulldozer them through.
On other side of the coin Wheeler is being called a "long-time Obama supporter" throwing his weight behind the president's first election campaign in 2008, so he has credentials.
Wheeler's name is now being floated (and no doubt tested to see what the reaction is).
Earlier this month one of the names most oft-mentioned for FCC chair was that of Susan Crawford, telecoms law professor and ardent critic of the resurgent telecoms duopoly. Crawford has a book out called 'Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.' which might be sloganised as an "outspoken indictment of the US telecoms regulatory regime" or something similar.
From the position of sworn enemy of AT&T, Verizon and of course the big cable companies, Crawford would be far from ideal as FCC chair and, perhaps realising it would never work, she has come out in support of Wheeler.
Whether Crawford's backing would help or hinder Wheeler, of course, we might soon find out.
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