Source: Susan Crawford Is Next FCC Chair

A source close to the House Majority Whip’s office tells us that Susan Crawford will be the next chair of the Federal Communications Commission. At least, he said, once we say it, it’ll be true. Oh, who are we kidding? It was Rep Frank Underwood who told us, so it must be true. Or it will be true, right?

Obviously, the ramifications of the 2012 election are still being felt. As you know, President Barack Obama is serving his second term. Democrats maintained control of the Senate and now have 55 votes to the GOP’s 45. Republicans hold control of the House of Representatives with a 232-200 margin.

In the Senate, Headlines mainly keeps our eyes on the Commerce and Judiciary committees for developments in communications policy. The Senate Commerce Committee is led by Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) who recently announced he will not seek re-election in 2014. He has promised a “no holds barred approach” in his final Congress. As chairman and as the No. 2 member on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen Rockefeller has a lot of clout to pursue his pet issues, including those that impact the media, advertising and telecommunications industries. Among these are: Internet privacy, cybersecurity, and media violence. Sen Rockefeller will also be a leading voice in the debate over how to reduce gun violence. Within days of the Sandy Hook tragedy, he crafted a bill calling for a study of the impact of violent video games and violent programming on children. AdWeek suggests that Chairman Rockefeller could also take on updates of aging communications and telecommunications laws, especially given his recent success in getting legislation passed that will lead to the establishment of a nationwide interoperable public safety network.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) laid out his committee’s agenda late last month; it includes:

  • Immigration reform;
  • Gun violence – including how we manage the exposure of children to violence in popular media;
  • The Public’s Right To Know: Transparency that keeps the government accountable to the people. Legislative efforts to prevent classified leaks should not infringe upon our fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press;
  • Privacy: Update our privacy laws to address emerging technology and the Internet, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and cybersecurity laws;
  • Satellite TV : reauthorize the satellite TV license; and
  • Accessibility: making books accessible to those with visual disabilities.

In the House, Headlines mainly tracks the Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, chaired by Greg Walden (R-OR). His priority this year is for Congress to use the communications and technology sector’s success to spur economic growth and job creation.

At a hearing this week entitled, Fighting for Internet Freedom: Dubai and Beyond, Chairman Walden proposed legislation that would make it the official policy of the United States government to promote a free Internet. Congress approved a non-binding resolution last year that encouraged U.S. delegates to an international telecommunications treaty conference in Dubai to fight proposals that would result in global Internet regulation. The new draft legislation would make it formal U.S. policy to "promote a global Internet free from government control and to preserve and advance the successful multi-stakeholder model that governs the Internet." It is unclear what kind of practical impact the bill would have. A committee aide said the measure would not empower people to sue to overturn any government regulations. [Chairman Walden also wrote an op-ed for the Washington Examiner this week – see Keeping the Internet free from government shackles]

The ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee, Rep Anna Eshoo (D-CA), has said she’s concerned that a Verizon challenge of the Federal Communications Commission’s open Internet/network neutrality rules could necessitate a new law to clarify the FCC’s authority to enforce such rules. Chairman Walden, however, has said no bill to give the FCC power to regulate the Internet would come out "on his watch."

Given this split leadership, it is doubtful that we’ll see any major stand-alone telecommunications legislation over the next two years. Recent press reports seem to confirm:

When gridlock stalls action in Congress, attention turns to the Administration for possible action. As we transition into the second Obama term, the question now is who will fill key leadership roles and get things done. The Commerce Department is taking a lead role in developing a code of conduct to provide transparency in how companies providing applications and interactive services for mobile devices handle personal data. Since June 2012, the Department of Commerce has been run by Rebecca Blank who has been Acting Secretary since John Bryson resigned for health reasons. Press reports point to President Obama tapping Chicago businesswoman Penny Pritzker, who led fundraising for his 2008 campaign, as his next commerce secretary. Pritzker would bring a business background to the administration, helping Obama fulfill what he has said is a goal to add private sector experience in his Cabinet. The Chicago businesswoman has developed a skyscraper in her hometown, worked as president of a commercial real estate and luxury senior housing company, and served as chairwoman for a credit-reporting company. Priztker’s net worth as of September was estimated at $1.8 billion, according to Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest Americans.

The Federal Trade Commission is also a lead agency in crafting and enforcing online privacy rules. On February 15, current FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz will step down. The departure has been widely rumored for months. Two other Democrats on the commission, Julie Brill and Edith Ramirez, are among several leading candidates to fill the chairmanship. Aside from Commissioner Brill and Ramirez, the list of potential new chairmen includes the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics, Howard A. Shelanski, Justice Department lawyer Leslie C. Overton and University of Colorado Law School Dean Philip J. Weiser. The transition to a new chairman — whether from within the commission or from outside — will create at least a temporary partisan split, with two Democrats, two Republicans and one seat empty until President Obama can gain confirmation for a nominee. Such 2 to 2 divides on the five-member commission are not uncommon during transitions, but they can make it difficult to chart a forceful path for the FTC.

At the FCC, Chairman Julius Genachowski has not (repeat NOT) announced any plans to leave the agency – but that hasn’t stopped either speculation about or lobbying to fill his still-occupied seat. Last month, Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn suggested advocates not focus too much on WHO the next FCC chair may be, but focus more on the qualities the ideal candidate should possess. She suggested that next FCC chair should:

  • Be Comfortable as a Regulator
  • Understand the Role of Congress
  • Seek Greater Public Input
  • Be Dedicated to the Institution's Role as Defender of the Public Interest

Also last month, the Women's Media Center, co-founded by Jane Fonda, urged President Obama to nominate a woman as the next FCC chair. "In its nearly 80-year history, the FCC has never had a female chair. Appointing a woman is not just a symbolic step. The next FCC chair should promote diversity and increase competition in telecommunications and in media," said WMC President Julie Burton.

In a February 5 Washington Post op-ed, Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote that the President should pick former White House aide Susan Crawford to lead the FCC (were you wondering how’d we get back here?). No, we’re not sure if she has the backing of the fictional Rep Underwood of Netflix’s House of Cards, but her name does continue to surface on the lips of public interest advocates. Crawford is a leading telecommunications policy expert and longtime champion of network neutrality. She promotes a reasonably priced, globally competitive, ubiquitous communications infrastructure that enables American competition and innovation. Above all, she is committed to making high-speed Internet access a universal, affordable resource. Crawford, vanden Heuvel writes, is ideally qualified. In addition to her deep knowledge and expertise in this issue, she understands the landscape, players, and technology well, without being entrenched in the culture of big business. She knows that democratic freedom of information is at stake — and she knows that the FCC has the power to fix it.

She offers a new vision for the future of broadband. Crawford would preempt the unfair and uncompetitive state laws that infringe on the rights of local communities to expand broadband access. To support local efforts to build out fiber-optic networks, she proposes creating an infrastructure bank that would provide long-term, low-interest financing. And to ensure that every American has access to high-quality Internet, she advocates subsidies to increase competitive offerings.

Will it happen? Well, over 700 people have already signed a We The People petition to make it so. And an interview with Susan Crawford airs this weekend on Moyers & Company. But most observers thinks she has no chance – not unless Frank Underwood gives the OK.

We’ll be back with Valentine’s Day wished next week, but ‘til then, we’ll see you in the Headlines.

By Kevin Taglang.