President Obama's changes to the FCC


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The transition from Bush to Obama is seeing its final pieces being put into place. High-profile cabinet positions lead the news each night, although these are only a small fraction of all the posts being filled. The one seat that broadcasters are watching is that of the chairman of the FCC. While Julius Genachowski's name has been submitted, the appointment is still pending Senate approval.

The bad taste of former Chairman Kevin Martin still lingers, but immediate efforts are being made to cleanse that memory. The first step was President Obama naming Michael Copps to be the interim chairman of the FCC.

Copps comes across as a straight-talker. He's a no-nonsense person. Actually, he seems gruff most of the time, but perhaps that's just his low tolerance for misdirected and inefficient effort. (That's a polite way of saying bravo sierra.)

I have watched Copps since he joined the commission, and I have had mixed feelings about him to date. Perhaps it's his no-nonsense attitude that puts me at guard. We're not accustomed to that kind of frankness at the FCC. However, he showed his leadership ability immediately after being appointed to the temporary post. Within minutes of the promotion, he issued statements reaffirming his goals and positions. Acknowledging that there were some significant problems under Martin, Copps said, “[T]he FCC must utilize its resources — especially its human resources — smartly and inclusively. And we must be credible not only in what we do, but how we go about doing it. But I worry that in some important ways we haven't always been doing that. I am troubled that our lines of communication, both internal and external, seem to have frayed. Our credibility suffers when that happens. So the first thing we need to do as an organization is to improve our lines of communication, enhance the level of transparency in our work, and bring to our daily decisions the kind of openness that gives true credibility to everything we do.”

This certainly disassociates Copps' methods from Martins, which is a needed first step. Commissioners McDowell and Adelstein have worked well with Copps, so there is a cooperative foundation already in place going forward.

Separately, the White House issued some guidelines on what it wants to accomplish in the coming years. One item on the technology page relates to the past Martin policies:

Restore Scientific Integrity to the White House: Restore the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best-available, scientifically valid evidence and not on ideological predispositions.

It almost seems like that was written as a response to the shortcomings revealed under Martin. For the past several years, political agendas have replaced reality. With Obama's technical focus, the incoming chairman's technology background, and the established rapport of the existing three commissioners, the FCC has the potential to make some good and effective policy.

And there's still one more seat open on the commission. I hope Obama makes a good choice there, too.

For more on the White House's Technology agenda, visit whitehouse.gov/agenda/technology


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