Kornbluh, Ness Said to Top List of Clinton FCC Contenders

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By Kyle Daly

Nov. 4 — The telecom industry is buzzing that Hillary Clinton, if elected president, would tap one of two women to lead the Federal Communications Commission next year.

Karen Kornbluh, a Nielsen Holdings PLC executive, and Susan Ness, a telecom consultant and director at Gannett Co. Inc., are the two candidates that telecom attorneys and trade group officials most often point to as possible picks for the post.

Regardless of who wins the presidency, the next FCC head will have to grapple with an array of hot-button issues, including a complex effort to shift more airwaves to wireless uses and a potential review of AT&T Inc.'s acquisition of Time Warner Inc.

Outside of setting global public policy at Nielsen, Kornbluh is a senior fellow for digital policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, where she focuses on global efforts to achieve universal internet connectivity and to keep the internet free from government intrusion or censorship. She was the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for most of President Barack Obama's first term.

Ness was an FCC commissioner from 1994 to 2001. She was involved in commission efforts on digital television standards, guidelines to bring more children’s educational programming to broadcast TV and the implementation of the federal E-Rate program, which subsidizes broadband expansion to underserved schools and libraries.

Neither Kornbluh nor Ness immediately responded to Bloomberg BNA requests for comment.

Kornbluh was Obama's policy director in the Senate and closely involved in his 2008 presidential campaign. Ness has been a booster for the Clinton family every time Hillary or Bill Clinton has run for office since 1992.

In the 2016 cycle, Ness has been especially active as a Clinton fundraiser, several telecom industry sources told Bloomberg BNA. Both of Obama's FCC chairmen, Julius Genachowski and Tom Wheeler, were Obama campaign bundlers before getting their nods to head the agency.

Kornbluh has also been a close Clinton ally throughout the 2016 campaign. Ness and Kornbluh both pledged their support to Clinton early. Ness gave the personal maximum campaign contribution of $2,700 to the Hillary for America campaign committee on April 12, 2015, the day Clinton announced her candidacy. Kornbluh gave the same amount on July 28, 2015, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Since then, Kornbluh has been helping to lead the Clinton campaign's technology and innovation policy working group, according to multiple sources familiar with the group.

Setting the Agenda

It's unclear what initiatives the FCC might take up under either Kornbluh or Ness. They both have extensive resumes, with considerable experience in communications policy matters.

But resumes aren't necessarily good roadmaps. Wheeler was a career cable and telecom lobbyist viewed skeptically by many in the public-interest community when Obama nominated him to run the FCC. Yet Wheeler largely has sided with public-interest groups, not his former employers, on issues such as net neutrality, consumer privacy and opening the TV set-top box market.

A Clinton FCC would work to advance elements of the technology policy agenda Clinton outlined earlier this year. The FCC would play a role in realizing Clinton's goal of universal affordable broadband by 2020 and encouraging investment in mobile and wireline telecom infrastructure. That could put the next FCC in line to continue recent agency efforts such as opening up more airwaves for wireless use and expanding both E-Rate and the Lifeline program, which subsidizes phone and broadband service for low-income Americans.

Other names floated in the telecom sector include Ben Scott, senior advisor to New America's Open Technology Institute and a policy adviser to Clinton dating back to her tenure as secretary of state, and current FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn. Rosenworcel's tenure on the commission ends this year, unless the Senate confirms her to a second term in its lame-duck session.

Whoever follows current FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler may face less policy pressure from a Clinton White House than the Obama administration has exerted, Hal Singer, a senior fellow at the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, told Bloomberg BNA. Singer said he would expect the “fairly centrist” Clinton to be less apt than Obama to make policy recommendations to the FCC, as Obama has on issues such as net neutrality and pay-TV set-top boxes.

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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