Connolly, Layton May Top Trump’s FCC Short List

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By Kyle Daly

Telecom industry insiders waiting for President Donald Trump to name a third GOP member of the Federal Communications Commission are focused on two possible contenders.

Industry officials and telecom attorneys are pointing to Duke University economics professor Michelle Connolly and American Enterprise Institute scholar Roslyn Layton as likely candidates for the post.

The pair may have an edge over other possible picks because conservatives are interested in candidates with a strong grounding in economics. The Obama administration’s FCC endured GOP criticism for allegedly not folding sufficient economic analysis into new rules and regulations. Sitting GOP Commissioner Michael O’Rielly called for the creation of an all-new FCC economics bureau in March 8 testimony for a Senate oversight hearing.

“To the extent that Roslyn Layton and Michelle Connolly are considered candidates, they both have solid credentials,” Randolph May, president of free-market think tank the Free State Foundation, told Bloomberg BNA.

Connolly, the FCC’s chief economist under former Republican Chairman Kevin Martin, holds a raft of Yale University economics degrees. Layton’s work with AEI and as a fellow in the Center for Communication, Media and Information Technologies at Denmark’s Aalborg University has touched frequently on the economics of technology and the internet. She advised the Trump team on the FCC during the transition.

Layton told Bloomberg BNA recently that she believes talk of her being nominated is just speculation, but that she may be interested in the job.

“If they asked me, of course I would consider it,” she said.

Connolly didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Crucial Third Vote

Whoever is picked as the commission’s third GOP member will hold a crucial majority-party vote as the FCC prepares to weigh in on numerous hot-button telecom and technology issues. The agency is preparing to overhaul its net neutrality rules and working to encourage broadband investment in underserved areas.

It’s not clear when Trump will announce his choice. Telecom attorneys told Bloomberg BNA that some Republicans want Trump to name a female nominee because the two current GOP commissioners are men.

Connolly and Layton tend to be ideologically aligned with Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. They were both strong critics of Obama-era FCC decisions, such as the agency’s 2015 net neutrality rules. They have called for the commission to leave issues such as consumer privacy to other federal agencies and not move against the industries it regulates unless there’s clear evidence of abuse of market power.

Tim Brennan, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who was chief economist at the FCC under Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler, told Bloomberg BNA that it would make sense for Trump to pick an economics expert for the spot. But Brennan cautioned against viewing any economist-cum-commissioner “as a remedy for a lack of economics at the FCC,” saying economics doesn’t always have much to do with issues at the agency such as shrinking the digital divide and promoting content diversity.

Indiana State Senator Brandt Hershman; Ben Moncrief, vice president of government relations at regional wireless company C Spire; and Mark Jamison, who, like Layton, is an AEI fellow and former member of the Trump FCC transition team; are among other rumored possible picks. Hershman, a close ally of Vice President Mike Pence, led a charge to deregulate the telecom industry in Indiana.

Michaela Ross contributed to this report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Daly in Washington at kdaly@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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