The FCC's new cable chief won't have much of a learning curve, but his experience might not bring solace to the cable industry. W. Kenneth Ferree, a 40-year-old partner at Washington firm Goldberg, Godles, Wiener & Wright, has built a healthy practice representing big cable operators' foes on bread-and-butter issues.
Most recently he's represented utilities in their battle to eliminate caps on rates cable companies pay to string their wires to power poles. Another former client, Optel, is an overbuilder that fought to gain more access to cable company wiring inside apartments and condos. Ferree, named to his new post last week by long-time friend and FCC Chairman Michael Powell, insisted there's no reason for the cable industry to worry. For starters he's recused from dealing with the pole attachment case and the agency already has decided to defend the price ceilings before the U.S. Supreme Court.
As for other issues where his clients have opposed the cable industry, Ferree stressed that his clients' views aren't necessarily his own. "I don't come into this with any preconceived notions," Ferree said. Ferree's familiarity with cable-related issues sets him apart from his two predecessors, Deborah Lathen and Meredith Jones, attorneys from outside the field who needed a crash course in telecom law when they joined the commission.
Although new FCC Chairman Michael Powell clearly wanted a bureau chief with industry experience, it's also likely he didn't want anyone identified too closely with the cable industry. That's because Ferree's authority may one day extend beyond cable oversight. Industry and FCC sources predicted that Ferree is heir-apparent to head a new video bureau that would have combined jurisdiction over broadcast TV, cable and direct broadcast satellite after the FCC launches a restructuring of the agency that is now in the planning stage. - Bill McConnell