FCC Fast Track?


The Obama transition team is moving fast to fill cabinet posts, after which the second-tier positions will start being filled.

Given that broadband deployment is part of President-elect Barrack Obama’s economic recovery plan, and given that the DTV transition date is only three weeks after inauguration day, FCC watchers expect a pretty quick pick for the top post there.

Quick would be in the first quarter of 2009. Some new administrations have taken six months or more to get around to naming the permanent FCC chief, but that is unlikely to happen this time around.

Julius Genachowski remains at the top of many lists and is looking more and more like the man to beat. He is a former FCC staffer who also has experience with Internet start-ups, and he chaired the group that drew up Obama’s tech policy plan for the campaign. While he has been talked up for the White House tech czar (not to be confused with a chief technology officer post for the federal government, which already exists) that Obama plans to appoint, the FCC post may wind up being the more attractive.

The Genachowski-led plan includes network neutrality, ownership diversity, and tech-driven media content control, which sounds like the agenda of a Democratic FCC chair from here.

Michael Copps could well be named acting chairman in the interim, an interim that would start whenever FCC Chairman Kevin Martin decides to leave. He can stick around as a commissioners if he wants, but almost nobody expects him to do that.

The president-elect will also have at least one more FCC post to fill, with Republican Deborah Taylor Tate, whose term is up and whose time is running out, exiting at the end of the year. A possible replacement there is Meredith Baker, who has been acting head of NTIA and has gotten praise from both sides of the aisle for her pinch-hitting post running the DTV converter box coupon program.

It would make sense for Copps to take the chair through the DTV transition date since he is well-versed in the issues and potential problems, with a permanent chairman taking over in March if the Obama camp continues at its current breakneck–at least for government–pace..

But the FCC and tech czar posts won’t be the only ones that could affect communications policy. Those also include Commerce, Justice, and the Federal Trade Commission, a point an alliance of groups made Thursday in pushing the Obama administration to appoint reformers.