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FCC Name Game Heats Up: Layton, Connolly Join Fray

The Trump administration appears to be searching for a woman candidate to potentially further diversify a Federal Communications Commission that already includes the first African-American woman who ever chaired the agency and its first Indian-American chair.

Multiple sources have told The Wire that two new names have surfaced for the open Republican seat on the FCC: Roslyn Layton and Michelle Connolly. A third woman was said to have been interviewed, but was not looking to take the job for personal reasons.

There is no rush to fill the two empty seats, one Republican and one Democratic. The current 2-1 Republican majority (chairman Ajit Pai and commissioner Michael O’Reilly) is on the same page when it comes to axing regulations they see as unnecessary or overly burdensome — though if Democrat Mignon Clyburn decided to leave, there would be a regulatory, or deregulatory, vacuum because the FCC needs a quorum to approve items.

The stock of Brandt Hershman, the Indiana legislator said to be a friend of Vice President Mike Pence and whose name surfaced as possible chairman, is said to have fallen somewhat.

Layton was on the FCC transition team and is considered a “Trump” pick rather than, say, a Pence pick. Layton is a deregulatory-minded associate with the American Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank.

Layton is no fan of the FCC reclassification of ISPs as common carriers. She is also a foe of the agency’s broadband privacy rulemaking, calling it a “partisan endgame of corporate favoritism” resulting in “misinformed, unjustified rules.”

She is a critic of the FCC’s setting aside spectrum in auctions at below-market rates for certain players — as the FCC did in the incentive auction — writing in a Multichannel News op-ed piece in 2015 that it was a way for the FCC to play favorites and ultimately raise broadband costs to consumers. And she likes zero-rating plans.

One source said the new administration may want an economist to fill the post and that Connolly had been mentioned; a second source confirmed her name was one of the ones in the chatter-sphere. An economics professor at Duke University and former chief economist at the FCC under Republican chairman Kevin Martin, Connolly was said to have been in the running for the FCC seat of commissioner Robert McDowell back in 2013.

Connolly, a Yale University graduate, served two separate stints as chief economist at the FCC between 2006 and 2009 and was an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the 1990s.

One source cautioned that a lot of names are being floated and the administration was not looking to make a pick anytime soon.

Some of the names previously floated include Viacom lobbyist Keith Murphy; Monica Desai, a former bureau chief under Republican chairman Kevin Martin and now a Facebook executive; and Chip Pickering, a former GOP House member from Mississippi now heading INCOMPAS.

Activists Send a Valentine to FCC: P.S., I Love Title II

At press time Friday (Feb. 24), the Federal Communications Commission’s list of its top 10 most active dockets in the past 30 days showed only 455 comments on “protecting and promoting an open Internet,” but that could soon change.

According to Free Press, on Feb. 23 it was able to hand-deliver nearly 200,000 petitions, in the form of Valentine-inspired letters, to FCC headquarters from folks telling the agency why they loved net neutrality.

Free Press and others have called FCC chairman Ajit Pai a “former Verizon lawyer” opposed to net neutrality. His predecessor, Tom Wheeler, similarly had “former cable and wireless lobbyist” added to his job description by some net-neutrality activists until he changed course on the Open Internet Order, moving to a Title II-based, common-carrier approach to broadband regulation.

Pai said last week he was still “considering the way forward” on net neutrality, saying the Internet Four Freedoms espoused by former FCC chairman Michael Powell — now president of NCTA: The Internet & Television Association — should guide that process, whether it happens on Capitol Hill or at the FCC.

Pai has said he is hardly opposed to net neutrality, only to the Title II approach that subjects ISPs to common-carrier regulations, with all the regulatory freight that goes with it.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.