The Obama Administration has nominated Larry Strickling for the post of Administrator of the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA). While long anticipated, the nomination was delayed until Commerce actually had a Secretary — it being polite to give the person running the Department at least the opportunity for input into who his assistant secretaries will be. It also looks like, contrary to my analysis last week, that Genachowski may come on board as soon as late April/Early May when Congress comes back from recess rather than after the DTV transition in June, and that Adelstein will simultaneously move to RUS. This would mean that the Obama administration would have their primary media/telecom team on board within the first 100 days, with the balance of the FCC waiting for the Republicans to come to some sort of consensus on whom to recommend for the second Republican slot.
More below . . .
From my perspective, I expect Larry Strickling to be a good NTIA Administrator. He was head of the Common Carrier Bureau at the FCC under Kennard, which was a time when the Common Carrier Bureau took its responsibility to force the Bells to open their systems seriously (indeed, their active efforts to ensure compliance with the openness requirements of Section 271, imposing significant merger conditions on the SBC-Ameritech Merger, and other moves designed to ensure real competition and hold the Bells accountable caused Bill Kennard no end of grief with the Republican Congress). Since then, he has done a lot of work with the non-cable/non-ILEC broadband and tech world. No experience relative to ICANN, but that’s a bloody sink-hole and such a small part of NTIA’s area of jurisdiction that no one cares (which is why it remains such an untreated sink hole of potential mischief).
With about $4.5 billion to spend on broadband, NTIA is a fairly significant posting. Add to that it’s role in the use of government spectrum, and NTIA could well be a very powerful engine for driving broadband access and broadband competition. Having someone in charge who knows the tricks the incumbents use from both the enforcement side and as a competitor seems like an excellent idea to me.
Meanwhile, it looks like Genachowski may come in as Chair and Adelstein shift over to RUS sooner than I had thought. According to Communications Daily last week (sorry, no link), the White House papers formally naming Genachowski for nomination as chair designate him as filling Adelstein’s expired term — leaving the open Republican seat and the open Democratic seat still open and maintaining the existing 2-1 balance. Maintaining the balance makes it easier to bring on Genachowski without finding the matching Republican, since the balance will remain the same. Trade press continue to report that while Mingon Clyburn is pretty much settled as the other Dem, there is no consensus among Rs who the new Republican Commissioner should be, and the Administration is unlikely to make a pick without that sort of input — at least for now. If it takes Republicans too long to get their act together, the Administration might get impatient to have a full FCC up and running.
It seems odd to me that Genachowski would want to come in to office just in time for the big switch to DTV. OTOH, as I observed last week, sitting on the sidelines while all the fund decisions get made cannot be fun. Given that the first switch over in February, wherein one-third of all analog stations switched off their analog signals, seems to have gone smoothly enough, and given that Copps and everyone else have been busy since January getting everyone in shape, Genachoswki and the rest of the Administration must consider it worth doing the switchover now to get the media/telecom team in place as soon as possible. That fits both with the Obama Administration’s emphasis on broadband as a major component, and with the need to make fast decisions around the stimulus money.
Mechanically, Genachowski would be confirmed for Adelstein’s position by the Senate Comemrce Committee and then by the full Senate. This is not expected to be a controversial appointment, and could happen anytime after Congress reconvenes following the April recess. Genachowski replaces Adelstein, who is then confirmed by the Senate Agriculture Committee and the full Senate for his position as Assistant Sec of Commerce over at RUS. Copps then moves back into his old office as the senior Commissioner after the Chairman.
At the end, the Obama team will have a powerful and experienced media/telecom/broadband team in place in critical positions for broadband policy. All in all, I find that a good thing.
Stay tuned . . . .