There's a very early trial balloon being floated around Obama's tech policy that, while I don't want to admit it, is a somewhat worrisome sign. While Obama has been a stalwart rhetorical supporter of net neutrality in his campaign, it's going to be the detailed implementation of the rule that will matter over the next four years. Even the telecoms acknowledge that an open internet is an optimal outcome, and AT&T is apparently running a net neutral company because of its merger agreement, though they of course will undercut this position the moment they can through litigation or outright flouting of the law. A strong FCC is going to be necessary to fight and enforce agreements across media policy, broadband, and spectrum, and telecoms, broadcasters and cable companies will fight this every step of the way. So in looking at Obama's FCC transition, I'm worried. Here's Olga Kharif reporting in Business Week.
Rivera, who is not interested in the position, has drawn up a short list of candidates that includes two African American women, according to a person familiar with Rivera's thinking. One is Julia Johnson, a Florida consultant who chairs Video Access Alliance, an advocacy and advisory group for independent, emerging, and minority networks and Internet content providers. Johnson is also on the board of MasTec (MTZ), a contractor that designs and builds telephone, broadband, electric, and other networks. She didn't return a call or an e-mail. Rivera was not available for an interview.
Another possibility: Mignon Clyburn, who has been a commissioner for the Public Service Commission of South Carolina since 1998. After earning a bachelor's degree in banking finance and economics from the University of South Carolina, she worked as a newspaper editor and was general manager and publisher for the local Coastal Times. Clyburn is a daughter of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, South Carolina's most prominent black politician. Clyburn declined to comment for this story.
Julia Johnson's Video Access Alliance is a telecom funded astroturf group, and Mignon Clyburn's main qualification seems to be that she is the daughter of Jim Clyburn, a powerful House Democrat who voted against net neutrality. That these names are being floated is a very bad sign, because it means the progressive interest groups and businesses working on the FCC transition are being cut out the process in favor of traditional DC norms of nepotism and open pay-to-play corruption.
The philosophy of the President matters a great deal, but so d the details and the personnel. Obama's been so great on tech and telecom policy that it's hard to imagine this is anything but a brief detour, but I wanted to flag it in case it turns out to be the rumblings of something more problematic.