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FCC’s Hoffman Looks Back, Moves Forward

Clyburn Staffer and D.C. Veteran Heads Back to Private Sector 3/23/2015 8:00 AM Eastern

Adonis Hoffman, chief of staff to Federal Communications Commissioner and former acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, will leave the agency at month’s end. He was tapped for the post in 2013 after a stint as senior vice president and general counsel of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, better known as The 4As. But he also brought plenty of FCC and Capitol Hill experience to the post.


In the late 1990s, Hoffman was deputy chief of what was then the Cable Bureau under Democratic chairman William Kennard. He was also subcommittee staff director and counsel to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and legislative counsel to the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.


In part one of this exclusive, two-part exit interview with Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton, Hoffman looks ahead and provides a read on the currently contentious mood at the FCC, plus much more.


MCN: Why are you leaving and what’s next?


Adonis Hoffman: I’m leaving to head up a global think tank on corporate citizenship — an organization that helps business leaders, boards, CEOs and investors navigate important social, consumer and policy issues, especially companies in the media, communications and technology space.


MCN: Why now?


AH: At this stage of my career, it is a logical next step. I served two tours on Capitol Hill, two tours at the FCC, as [general counsel] of an advertising trade association, as a lawyer/lobbyist in private practice, foreign-policy analyst, university professor and corporate director. This will allow me to use that experience in pursuit of progress and results.


MCN: What have you learned from your time at the FCC? What are some of the agency’s challenges?


AH: Business is a force for good in our society. Media and tech firms really want to act responsibly, but they do not always know how to align their corporate interests with broader societal expectations.


Issues like privacy, diversity, data security and consumer trust are sometimes hidden on the corporate agenda. When there are major proceedings, like mergers or votes or hearings, these issues come to the forefront, and it is not always pretty.


Businesses face regulatory challenges every day that were not intended by Congress or the FCC. Look at the TCPA — Telephone Consumer Protection Act — for example. This consumer protection, anti-telemarketing statue has been leveraged by aggressive plaintiffs’ lawyers to line their pockets lavishly with millions, while consumers usually get peanuts. The proliferation of class-action litigation involving the TCPA has reached an outlandish level.


I think the TCPA should be known by its real acronym, “Total Cash for Plaintiffs’ Attorneys.” This is just one example where the public interest is not being advanced responsibly.


The “Internet of Things” puts technology into the lives of people in ways only imagined. While this delivers unheralded benefits to society, it demands unprecedented responsibility from corporations to be accountable, respectful and trustworthy to consumers.


MCN: How has the FCC changed, if at all, since your first time there?


AH: It has been a full agenda on the eighth floor, and I appreciate the opportunity to work with commissioner Clyburn, the chairman [Tom Wheeler], other commissioners and colleagues. The FCC is a great agency. There are scores of smart and dedicated public servants who work hard for the American people and take their role seriously.


With an expanded communications market, today, however, the stakes are much higher and the public debate is a bit harsher. Deals have more zeroes than before, and there is more partisanship, which is probably reflective of the overall tenor in Washington now.

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