Speculation grows over Trump FCC pick

Speculation grows over Trump FCC pick
© Greg Nash

President Trump must fill two vacant seats on the Federal Communications Commission, an important decision that could set the tone for his administration's policies on tech companies.

The FCC faces a number of important issues on its docket, including boosting broadband in rural areas and scaling back Obama-era net neutrality rules, both priorities of Republican Chairman Ajit Pai.

The FCC currently has two Republicans, Pai and Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, and one Democrat, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

For the two open spots, Trump must tap a Republican and a Democrat.

FCC watchers believe the Democratic spot will likely be filled by former Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

Rosenworcel has Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles SchumerMcConnell: CBO analysis for House bill will repeat 'things we already know' Congress urges Trump administration to release public transit funding Overnight Tech: FCC begins rolling back net neutrality | Sinclair deal puts heat on regulators | China blames US for 'Wanna Cry' attack MORE's (D-N.Y.) backing. Typically, presidents defer to the recommendations of Senate leaders in picking commissioners from the other party.

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But it's no certainty. Rosenworcel was renominated by former President Obama, but Trump last month withdrew her nomination.

For the Republican seat, Trump has not yet tipped his hand, but there is growing speculation over who could be on his shortlist.

Here are some of the top names for the GOP seat:


Michelle Connolly

Connolly is a Duke professor who served as chief economist at the FCC under former Chairman Kevin Martin, a George W. Bush appointee.

Her tenure overlapped with Pai, who was associate general counsel at the agency in 2007.

Connolly would likely be a close ally of Pai on net neutrality. Both are outspoken critics of the rules, which require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally.

She's referred to it as “net neutering” and a “huge step backward.”

She's also pushed for a lighter regulatory touch, in line with Pai's own views. And as a professor she's written about one of his top priorities: bringing internet access in rural areas up to par with cities.

Connolly is also unique among the candidates as an economist. If Trump taps her for the FCC, she'd be the first economist to be a commissioner since the Clinton administration.

 

Roslyn Layton

Layton is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, and has been a vocal opponent of the net neutrality rules' controversial Title II provisions, which brought internet providers under the FCC's regulation.

“The FCC's recent actions and the White House's intervention is inconsistent with a stable, evidence-based regulatory approach,” Layton wrote about net neutrality in a 2015 op-ed co-written with fellow AEI scholar Mark Jamison.

Layton is no stranger to Trump, having served on his FCC landing team during the transition.

In a November blog post, she outlined some of her own priorities, urging the Trump administration to focus on promoting broadband worldwide, challenging the Chinese app economy and bolstering American digital exports.

Layton's expertise on international tech issues, including EU broadband policy and mobile issues in Africa, is one area that could give her an edge.

“She has staked out a ground as being well versed in [a] variety of ways of regulating,” said Doug Brake, a policy analyst at the Information Technology Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank. “She’s focused on international advocacy on net neutrality issues.”

She boasts a Ph.D. from the Center for Communication, Media and Information Technologies at Denmark’s Aalborg University.

 

Patricia Paoletta

Paoletta has a lower profile than Connolly or Layton but was mentioned by FCC watchers as a strong potential candidate. She is a lawyer at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis, where she specializes in telecommunications, trade and technology policy.

She previously worked in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and as counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee for the Republican majority from 1996 to 1999.

According to OpenSecrets, which tracks money in politics, at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis and her previous firm, Wiley, Rein & Fielding, Paoletta lobbied on behalf of companies including Motorola and DirecTV.

Paoletta, like Layton, served on Trump’s FCC landing team.

 

Ben Moncrief

Moncrief is currently vice president of government relations at C-Spire, a telecommunications company.

He previously served as counsel to GOP Florida Sens. Mel Martinez and George LeMieux from 2008 to 2010, which some say could give him an edge.

“Being from the Hill seems to be more important lately,” said Marc Martin, firm chair on the communications industry at the international law firm Perkins Coie.  

“Commissioner O’Rielly used to be on the Hill. Rosenworcel came from the Hill. Former Commissioner [Michael] Copps came from the Hill.”

But many Republicans are pushing for the open GOP spot to be filled by a woman, according to a Bloomberg BNA report, with Pai and O'Reilly already at the agency.

One factor that could work against him: Moncrief criticized Trump during the campaign, according to InsideSources, an online news site, which cited now deleted tweets.

But if Trump did nominate Moncrief, he wouldn’t be the first former Trump critic to eventually gain the president's favor.