CPUC commissioner possible pick as new FCC chair

24 March 2013 by Steve Blum
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Catherine Sandoval, California Public Utilities Commission.

One person mentioned as a replacement for outgoing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Julius Genachowski is Catherine Sandoval, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission and a law professor, currently teaching at U.C. Berkeley. A Silicon Valley resident, she’s taken up the telecoms portfolio on the CPUC and understands the industry from a West Coast perspective.

Sandoval would be a great choice. The FCC needs someone who’s been shaped by Californian culture, high tech and otherwise. And her resume includes a staff tour at the FCC. The question is whether she has enough traction to get the job. This vacancy is the last shot at a plum appointment for many Washington insiders who are well-connected within the Obama administration. The competition will be intense.

Of the other people talked about as Genachowski’s replacement, Larry Strickling, currently head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and Blair Levin would be the most conventional choices. Both are former FCC staffers and broadband advocates in Genachowski’s mold. The person who seems to be getting the most attention is Tom Wheeler. His bio – venture capitalist, telecoms lobbyist and Obama fundraiser – suggests the FCC would be an interesting place under his leadership.

A Republican slot on the commission is also up for grabs as Robert McDowell, a Bush appointee, leaves. Lke Wheeler, he’s a former lobbyist. No front runner has emerged. His replacement could bring in fresh thinking, but I’m not betting on it. Beltway Republicans have few opportunities to make meaningful appointments these days, and they’re likely to hand the seat to one of their own.

Among other things, Sandoval has voted to raise California broadband benchmarks above what federal agencies consider acceptable and prodded incumbent carriers to improve both technology and outreach. We can hope she gets the chance to raise standards in Washington, too.