Monday, June 10, 2013

Advice to the New FCC Chairman

Posted for Deborah Taylor Tate

Free State Foundation
National Press Club
June 4, 2013 

"If I were FCC Chairman" Luncheon Event

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Deborah Taylor Tate, Distinguished Adjunct Senior Fellow, The Free State Foundation, and Former FCC Commissioner

At different times, in different moments, the FCC needs a different type of Chairman.

My friend Michael Copps tried to repair a demoralized and unappreciated staff in his very first few days as Interim Chair.

Some have exerted a "command and control presence"; in fact, I differ with my friend, Gigi Sohn, in that I don't think we need a Chairman exercising more power or their own "agenda" but rather implementing and championing what is our best national agenda. Some Chairs have actually delegated more authority – and clearly there is legal authority to do so – to the Bureaus and Chiefs. However, whatever your CEO style, just show leadership that inspires your 2,000 employees and American citizens; be trustworthy – your word is indeed your bond – and always take the higher road.

While everyone wants to pigeon-hole you – "she is only interested in cable"; "he is only interested in mobile"; "the media is too consolidated"; "satellite issues are well – too technical, I would suggest be more like a chameleon. It mystifies people, including the press (and Randy May). So, don't be pigeon-holed. Surprise people with a knock-out speech. Bring items up from the Bureau. Get involved in where the industry thinks technology is going. Talk to consumers about empowering them in this digital age.

Depending on the issue, one may need more time to percolate and maybe knock heads in order to get an industry agreement (or at least some ideas on the table). Another item may need prompt, swift decision-making even if it gets a lot of negative media to get it off your plate. Remember, the FCC is just part of the process. Don't kid yourself, even 5-0 decisions get appealed. You are rarely the "end game."

And why not give your fellow commissioners something they can actually get their teeth into – maybe that will give them less time to get their teeth into you! Seriously, you have 2, 3, sometimes 4 commissioners with their own expertise, background, issue de jour that should be acting as a "Chief Judge"-docket manager, or taking leadership of a specific issue (spectrum auctions for example), or even rummaging through the million plus (according to Comm. McDowell) indecency complaints, or merely establishing a process dismissing thousands of decades’ old dockets through a time-honored consensus docket procedure. With all the recent media attention on agency budgets and especially travel, why not: coordinate global and regional international meetings; coordinate travel instead of complicating it; and have one keynote instead of three at each of the industry conferences. Appoint a commissioner to attend whatever "task force" or intra-agency group the FCC belongs to, whether the LEAD Commission (education) or Homeland Security, or the WRC (international).

Be like a chameleon; but do not be like a caterpillar – do not bury yourself inside the FCC building, the telecom or media world, or the U.S.A. for that matter. Look at and learn what is going on out there in the world. We could learn a lot. There is more m-Health in Rwanda regarding reducing AIDs than here; there are more women running small businesses through technology in remote villages than in many parts of America. We – the FCC Chairman – must realize our companies are existing in a much-broader global environment with incredible pressure to compete not merely with U.S. companies but with international, worldwide companies. And, we should all want and indeed need them to succeed.

Use your bully pulpit to encourage investment in research, R and D by the public and private sectors. Be a champion for getting and keeping women and girls in ICT – these are the jobs of the future for every sector not just for the ICT one. I have said it and will again – women are our greatest natural resource – more than gas or oil – and we are not educating or utilizing them and it is a real shame!

While we are discussing jobs, instead of hiring a cadre of McKinsey consultants, look inside the FCC for people who have been waiting – and wanting – to shine for a long time; they are there, believe me. And their knowledge, history, and expertise is immeasurable.

Utilize the FCC advisory groups rather than looking at them as "rabble-rousers." You have a group of issue-experts – give them a question, a problem, a situation and say: give me 3 solutions (that way you have more than 1 to choose from) in 90 days. I bet they will.

And, bring in engineers and economists – who needs another lawyer at the FCC…but we sure need some new thinking about spectrum, sharing, unlicensed devices, white spaces, and auction rules. Spectrum rules should be based on physics, not politics.

Work with and spend time with Members of Congress and especially Commerce Members, their staff, and have frequent, calendared meetings, rather than showing up for contentious hearings that are often a waste of valuable staff time and slow down the efficiency of the agency. Investing time on the front end can save countless hours of Congressional questions. And, go to their Districts. Get out of the building and see what is going on across this great country!

Do not creatively find ways to expand the FCC's legal authority.

Do not meddle in private negotiations and business decisions. I could not have said it better than my friends Cong. Upton and Walden:  “The D.C. Circuit’s decision to overturn the FCC’s meddling in program carriage negotiations is welcome news,” “American viewers have unprecedented choice in the content they watch, the services that deliver it, and the devices that display it. In a dynamic market characterized by increased competition, rapidly developing technologies, and evolving business models, government intervention typically increases costs for consumers and reduces innovation. Our hope is that Acting Chairwoman Clyburn and her eventual successor will take note of this decision and begin reducing the agency’s intervention in the television marketplace.”

Do find ways to creatively resolve issues promptly and efficiently, i.e. set up "rocket dockets," mediation, dispute resolution, dismiss the 1,000 plus dockets that are multiple years if not decades old – have a dismissal docket every week and give the industry a choice – a lengthy FCC process or this quick result; then they can appeal – at least it gets work done more quickly for the FCC staff!

And, whatever you do, just don't spend a lot of time reading press reports – good or bad – until you are moving out of the 8th floor.

Oh, and by the way – could you honestly just rename and renumber the floors of the building correctly – it is the 12th floor, not the 8th floor. And, good luck.