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January 16, 2013

Rumor Mill—First Female FCC Head?

The FCC, which has been around since '34, has never been led by a woman. That might, and we emphasize, might, change as current FCC chmn Julius Genachowski is widely expected to step down soon.

Reasons that talks about a potential woman FCC chair are more prominent this time around: The push for more diversity in the Obama Administration, and the growing number of highly capable women leaders in the telecom space, according to industry observers. "There's a decent chance that might happen," one observer said. The Women's Media Center already petitioned the President to appoint a woman to succeed Genachowski and public interest groups like Free Press believes it's within the realm of possibility: 2 of the 5 current FCC commish are women.

A name mentioned with the most seriousness is Karen Kornbluh, the ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with observers citing her strong White House ties and previous FCC experience. A senior adviser to President Obama from the beginning of his Senate tenure through his '08 presidential campaign, Kornbluh has been called "Obama's brain."

Kornbluh also has her fair share of FCC experience: Starting in '94 as senior policy adviser in the Office of Plans and Policy under chmn Reed Hundt, she completed her FCC service as deputy chief of the Mass Media Bureau. Having said that, commish Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel are the "most obvious" potential candidates, Harold Feld, svp, Public Knowledge said.

"It's hard to pick one over another," one observer said. "Both have gone through Senate confirmation... both have powerful backers on the Hill... both are highly qualified," Feld said, noting several former Presidents had picked sitting FCC commish to lead the agency. NCTA chief Michael Powell was nominated by President Bill Clinton to a Republican seat and was later designated chmn by President George Bush.

That doesn't mean other FCC officials don't stand a chance: Bill Kennard, now ambassador to the EU, served as the Commission's general counsel before he was appointed chmn by Clinton in '97. Outside the Beltway, Katherine Sandoval, the first Hispanic commissioner of the CA Public Utilities Commission, has been mentioned as another contender. Sandoval, who worked at the FCC from '94 to '99, led the state commission's review of the AT&T and T-Mobile merger. The political question is if she has backer(s) in Washington.

Nonetheless, the next FCC chief might still be a male. "You have highly qualified male candidates like Larry Strickling," one observer said. Strickling, currently NTIA Administrator, has worked on Obama's campaign. The Chicagoan served at the FCC as chief of the common carrier bureau from '98 to '00. Did we mention he, like the President and Genachowski, also went to Harvard Law School?

ED NOTE: This story originally appeared in CableFAX Daily. Go here to subscribe.







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