yesEmily BirnbaumNone
×

Get access to Protocol

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

Politics

Who would Joe Biden pick for the FCC?

It's too early to say for sure, but the rumor mill has begun.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at the DNC

Tech lobbyists, tech activists and current and former FCC officials have all begun speculating about who Biden would choose to head the FCC if he wins.

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Joe Biden may or may not have a short list of people he'd nominate to chair the FCC, but the rest of Washington does.

Tech lobbyists, tech activists and current and former FCC officials have all begun speculating about who Biden would choose if he wins. There's a long list of Democrats with FCC experience, and a number of them are people of color, which is sure to be a factor for Biden if he's elected; several insiders said that being a white male would be just short of disqualifying for the top slot at the FCC under a Biden administration.

Here are the potential nominees whose names are coming up most often in these conversations, arranged roughly in the order in which tech insiders rank their odds.

Coming Monday: Who will Biden pick for the FTC?

Mignon Clyburn

If Mignon Clyburn wants to be the chair of the FCC, it's hers for the taking. That's the view of multiple people close to the campaign, at least. Clyburn is supremely well-credentialed, considering she served as an FCC commissioner for nine years, including as acting chair — and she's also the daughter of Rep. Jim Clyburn, the House Majority Whip whose endorsement helped bring Biden's campaign back to life.

"The most obvious [choice] is Mignon, but the question there becomes, does she want it?" said one telecommunications industry source.

Clyburn might have other interests. She's been making moves toward the private sector for some time and was recently nominated to entertainment company Lionsgate's board of directors. There's also been some speculation that she was more interested in a position on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a small but important body that regulates electricity, gas and oil.

Clyburn has kept mum about what she wants. But she'll likely have some say over who would be FCC chair under Biden, whether it's her or someone else.

Jessica Rosenworcel

Jessica Rosenworcel is another obvious choice and clear frontrunner for the job. She's the longest-serving Democrat on the commission; she has cultivated close relationships with important digital rights advocacy groups like Free Press and Public Knowledge; and she has essentially been auditioning for the job since she was appointed by former President Obama in 2011. Any nominee to chair the FCC has to win Senate confirmation, and Rosenworcel is a "darling of the Hill," said one tech policy veteran.

Thirty-seven Senate Democrats urged Obama to appoint Rosenworcel as the new FCC chair in 2013, a hefty feat for any FCC commissioner. (That push was led by former Sen. John Rockefeller, her longtime boss who is no longer in office.) Ultimately, Obama appointed Tom Wheeler, who's now heavily involved in Biden's campaign. But Rosenworcel is still seen as a serious, popular contender with extensive policy bona fides. She's spent years calling for an end to the "homework gap," her phrase for the children who are falling behind in school because they don't have proper internet access, and she never holds back on criticizing the Trump administration's pro-business approach.

It's safe to assume that Rosenworcel would be the interim chair under a Biden administration. But there are a lot of factors determining whether she would become the chairwoman, including the fact that she occasionally scrapped back in the day with Wheeler and his team, many of whom are also now working with the Biden campaign.

Geoffrey Starks

Geoffrey Starks, who was nominated to replace Clyburn at the FCC in 2018, has maintained a positive reputation through his short tenure as a friendly, thoughtful public servant with a commitment to diversity issues. He has been calling for the FCC to collect data on the racial makeup of the workforces it oversees, including in the broadcast industry, and has focused on defending the Universal Service Fund.

Typically, the more senior commissioner would have a better shot than the junior member. But Starks is well-liked and qualified, with less historical baggage at the FCC.

"It could easily be Jessica or Geoffrey Starks," said Blair Levin, a former FCC lawyer. "You could say they're both likely to be under serious consideration."

Gigi Sohn

Gigi Sohn is one of the most serious names being circulated outside of the FCC. Sohn is a central figure in the public interest community as the co-founder and former president of Public Knowledge and a close longtime adviser to Wheeler at the FCC. Sohn worked as a senior adviser at the FCC between 2013 and 2017, and she has since held fellowship positions with Georgetown Law's Institute for Technology Law & Policy and Mozilla.

She's an outspoken advocate for restoring the FCC's full authority and is seen with some skepticism by representatives of the telecom industry, who have battled with her for years. Some sources speculated she might struggle to make it through the Senate if Republicans remain in the majority.

"Gigi would be a controversial choice," said one telecom industry representative.

But Sohn's allies in Washington have already started drumming up excitement about her behind the scenes, arguing that she's the only one who would truly take the telecom industry to task, as she's done relentlessly over her career. "She's been in this space for decades, she built a lot of this community," said one public interest source, who argued that Sohn has friends both within the advocacy world and "a pretty large segment of the private industry, mostly in the internet technology space."

Larry Strickling

Earlier this year, Biden tapped Larry Strickling — a tech policy veteran in Washington and previously the policy coordinator for Pete Buttiegeg — to run domestic policy issues for the campaign, meaning he's tasked with overseeing the campaign's many policy committees. Sources said Strickling would likely be a serious contender for any administration job he's interested in.

Presidential transition teams often dole out administration nominations based on who was a loyal and active ally to the campaign, and Strickling fits into that category neatly. It doesn't hurt that he has worked across a multitude of relevant tech and telecom government positions since the 1990s, including stints at the FCC and the Commerce Department, and he was a close policy coordinator for Obama.

The question remains whether Strickling would want to return to the FCC or try out a new role, potentially even higher up in government.

Anna Gomez

Anna Gomez, who is currently a partner at Wiley Rein, "knows FCC policy from just about every direction," said one tech policy veteran. She held five separate jobs at the agency between 1994 and 2006. And in between, she served as the Democratic counsel on the Senate Commerce Committee in the mid-'90s and deputy chief of staff for the National Economic Council under Bill Clinton. Not to mention that she was the acting administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in 2009 before working as the deputy assistant secretary for communications and information until 2013.

In other words, Gomez's resume, background and friendly reputation would make her an inevitable contender for the FCC.

Edward 'Smitty' Smith

Edward "Smitty" Smith, a former adviser to the FCC and 2014 candidate for D.C. attorney general, is currently a partner with the law firm DLA Piper, where Kamala Harris' husband, Douglas Emhoff, is a partner.

Smith, alongside two other attorneys at DLA Piper's Washington office, held a fundraiser for Harris last fall, when she was still in the presidential race.

"[Smith] got lot of praise for his work from Wheeler," said Levin. "He's very effective both working in the institution as well as with the outside groups, and that's one of the things that a chairman has to be able to do: work both internally and externally."

Travis LeBlanc

Travis LeBlanc, who is currently a partner at Cooley, was a special adviser to Harris when she was the California attorney general. He served as the FCC's enforcement bureau chief and is a current member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the government's privacy watchdog. He's garnered a reputation for being tough on tech companies and making close connections throughout Washington.

He's also helping lead one of the lawsuits against President Trump's social media executive order.

"I would think that the Kamala Harris sphere … will have a lot of say in this administration, and Travis would be a prime candidate," said one tech policy veteran.

"[Harris] is almost like a prime minister to [Biden's] being president," he said. "I think she would be cut from the same mold as an Al Gore or Dick Cheney in terms of being a very active, influential vice president."

Sources said LeBlanc could be a top choice for the FCC as well as the FTC or DOJ, given his ties to Harris and extensive litigation experience.

Clint Odom

Clint Odom has been on the short list to be FCC commissioner before. He's eminently qualified; he spent years at the FCC, including a stint as Rosenworcel's policy director, as well as the Senate Commerce Committee. And between 2007 and 2019, he served as the legislative director to Harris, aiding her on technology issues as well as racial justice initiatives, including an anti-lynching proposal that is now a part of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

He's worked across the nonprofit and private sectors as well. He served as a vice president and director at Verizon in the early 2000s, and today he's the executive director of the National Urban League's Washington bureau, where he works on social justice issues.

Odom could be a prime contender, considering his ties to Harris, his close relationships within Washington's tech policy circles and his background in racial equity policymaking, which will likely be important to the Biden-Harris team.

Catherine Sandoval

Catherine Sandoval is a well-known telecommunications expert who previously served as the first female Hispanic commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission. She is currently a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, where she focuses on telecommunications, antitrust and energy issues.

She's had a positive reputation among FCC watchers since the late 1990s, when she helped develop policies for the FCC around spectrum.

Sandoval said she would be "honored" to serve at either the FCC or the FTC, given that she both has a history of working with internet law and policy and has written extensively about antitrust law and the FTC Act. She said expanding internet access and improving affordability should be top priorities for any FCC. "COVID has really peeled back the veneer over what we knew was there and society had tolerated," Sandoval said. "As we look at equipping America for the 21st century, we need to truly close these access gaps."

Susan Crawford

Susan Crawford is a progressive policy wonk who made a name for herself as an unabashed consumer advocate when she held numerous tech-related positions during the Obama years. Crawford was the special assistant to the president for science, technology and innovation policy under Obama in 2009 and co-led the FCC transition team between the Bush and Obama administrations. She's the author of "Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age" and currently teaches at Harvard Law School.

Crawford would be seen as a surprisingly left-leaning choice for Biden, and her nomination might rile up the telecom industry and business-friendly Democrats. But she has significant bona fides as a critical champion of the net neutrality movement (a Democratic FCC priority) and a friend to the public interest community.

Blair Levin

Blair Levin's name is familiar to anyone who's spent time around the FCC since the 1990s. He was chief of staff to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt from 1993 to 1997, and he came back to serve as the executive director of the FCC's National Broadband Plan from 2009 to 2010 after playing an instrumental role in Obama's transition team. Levin, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and former senior fellow with the Aspen Institute, has continued to research and write about telecom and broadband issues for years.

But he says he's not holding his breath. "Would I bet on me?" Levin said. "The answer is I'd rather bet on the others. I play Wall Street analyst and people ask the odds of things; when I look at the odds of things, the odds of those [other] folks are better."

John Branscome

Qualified Hill staffers are often considered for open administration positions, and John Branscome is an unavoidable contender if the Biden camp decides to vie for congressional expertise. Branscome is senior counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee, working under ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell, and formerly served as an FCC bureau chief and legal adviser. He replaced Rosenworcel on the Senate Commerce Committee in 2012.

Jessica González

Jessica González is the popular co-CEO of Free Press, a powerful advocacy group that focuses on media and communications issues. González has been a trusted resource for lawmakers on Capitol Hill and has testified before the relevant committees of jurisdiction on multiple occasions — including one time "while suffering from acute morning sickness" and another time "while eight months pregnant," as her bio points out. Before working at Free Press, González was the executive vice president and general counsel for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, where she pushed for inclusive communications policies.

González was one of the names floated by the advocacy community to succeed Clyburn in 2018, though ultimately Starks got the job. Her nomination to an FCC commissioner spot would be a serious win for the public interest world, which has long complained that they have been underrepresented at the FCC.

Nicol Turner Lee

Nicol Turner Lee, a respected telecommunications expert and the director of the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation, says she won't comment on whether she'd like a job as an FCC or FTC commissioner. But she has a clear vision for who she thinks Biden should be looking for to help run those agencies.

"They will be looking for more candidates who tend to be much more progressive or driven by a background in equity, either in a commission role or in a leadership role," Lee told Protocol. She said the fault lines drawn out by the COVID-19 pandemic and the reinvigorated Black Lives Matter movement have made it more important than ever for agency heads to focus on racial inequality in the tech sector and broadband access, with a special focus on algorithmic discrimination.

She's been studying and talking about all of those topics for years. And she thinks any commissioner or chair will have to be "data-driven" — another quality she happens to have.

Several sources floated Lee as a potentially strong commissioner for the FTC or FCC, depending on how the chair roles shake out.

Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

Keep Reading Show less
Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Policy

Google says it’s fighting election lies, but its ads fund them

A new report finds that more than 1,600 brands, from Disney to Procter & Gamble, have advertisements running on sites that push pro-Trump conspiracy theories. The majority of those ads are served by Google.

Google is the most dominant player in programmatic advertising, but it has a spotty record enforcing rules for publishers.

Photo: Alex Tai/Getty Images

Shortly after November's presidential election, a story appeared on the website of far-right personality Charlie Kirk, claiming that 10,000 dead people had returned mail-in ballots in Michigan. But after publishing, a correction appeared at the top of the story, completely debunking the misleading headline, which remains, months later, unchanged.

"We are not aware of a single confirmed case showing that a ballot was actually cast on behalf of a deceased individual," the correction, which quoted Michigan election officials, read.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Politics

Trump got all he needed from Twitter. Now, he still has all the power.

President Trump used Twitter to become the most powerful man in the world. Now, that power is his to keep.

Trump became the most powerful man in the world thanks to Twitter. Now that he's banned, he'll take that power with him.

Photo: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash

On Friday night, Twitter announced that it was forever banning President Trump from the digital podium where he conducted his presidency and where, for more than a decade, he built an alternate reality where what he said was always the truth.

There are moral arguments for not doing business with the guy who provoked a violent mob to invade the U.S. Capitol, leaving several people dead. There have been moral arguments for years for not doing business with the guy who spent most of his early mornings and late nights filling the site with a relentless stream of pithy, all-caps conspiracy theories about everything from Barack Obama's birthplace to the 2020 election. There are also moral arguments against tech companies muzzling the president of the United States at all.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Latest Stories