Patience on tap
Since the presidential election, speculation has run rampant around Washington and the rest of the country as to who will be appointed to the Obama cabinet. A little closer to home, however, speculation abounds regarding who will be the new chairman of the FCC. Whoever the new chairman is, we know two things that will be different: He or she will be a Democrat, and he or she most likely will have a different management style than the current chairman.
This second issue will have the most impact. The current chairman uses a centralized management style, where almost all decisions — regardless of how major — are vetted through the chairman’s office. Certainly this promotes a consistency of policy, and consistency is highly valued in the business community. However, the downside is that the sheer volume of work means that there is a long line of decisions to be made. Delays in decision-making often mean that when a decision finally is made, its value is limited.
For example, the FCC has not made a decision on recoverability of legal expenses from rebanding litigation. This issue has been pending before the commission on an appeal for more than a year. Continued delays will mean that the value of the decision (if overturned) will be diminished significantly, as litigation regarding individual rebands will be mostly completed.
While the new chairman is unlikely to have such an intense, centralized management style, that impact will not be felt for quite a while. First, a new chairman must be appointed following the inauguration. After that, there is a confirmation process. With a Democratic Congress, this process should be swifter than when Congress is controlled by the party in opposition to the president, but it is still a significant process.
Once the chairman and other commissioners are appointed and approved, there is a period of time for them to come up to speed on the various issues before them. Further, the chairman generally will appoint new bureau chiefs, who also must come up to speed on the issues before them. During this period, most industry trade associations visit the new administrators and make an effort to educate the new folks. As a result, there are further delays in releasing major decisions. And don’t forget that many federal employees use the balance of their vacation time during December. Thus, whenever there is a change in administration, significant delays occur at the FCC.
The 700 MHz band has been an item of great importance to the current chairman, and he probably will attempt to resolve the issues before he leaves office. However, given the enormity of the issues at stake, this may not be possible. In such an event, it would fall to the new commission to handle the issue. Given the lag time and the difficulty of the issues, it’s difficult to believe that these decisions will happen for a long time. The same fate may befall many other issues.
A change is coming — but not tomorrow, not next week, and not next month. Patience will be the order of the day for the communications industry.
Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at [email protected].