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Name Game: Scenarios Bubbling Up as Trump Remakes FCC Landscape

Plus: One World Sports CEO Sandy Brown on the niche network's troubles 12/05/2016 8:00 AM Eastern
Potential FCC chair candidates under the incoming Trump adminstration range from (clockwise) sitting Republican commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly to Rep. Marsha Blackburn and dark horse Ann Coulter.
TakeAway

Through the Wire, from the Dec. 5, 2016, issue of 'Multichannel News'

The Federal Communications Commission chairmanship is not usually among the first posts filled in a new administration. It can sometimes take months after the inauguration for a new chair to be installed, with a sitting commissioner — in this case either of two Republicans, Ajit Pai or Michael O’Rielly — serving as interim chairman in the, well, interim.

 

But a lot of names and scenarios have been bubbling up for the new chairman of the agency, particularly since it is hard to predict if the Trump administration will follow form or blaze new paths to various nominations.

 

Here is the current laundry list (with background input from various sources), with the caveat that someone could come out of left field to be named the FCC’s starting pitcher, as it were:

 

Pai: Senior sitting Republican. The last two Republican chairs — Kevin Martin and Michael Powell — were plucked from the ranks of sitting commissioners, though Powell had big name recognition as the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Martin had been a lawyer in Florida representing President George W. Bush in the 2000 recount court battle. Still, Pai has Senate connections: He once worked with Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

 

O’Rielly: A dark horse, but multiple sources said his name is in the mix, given his Senate connections as a former Hill staffer.

 

Jeff Eisenach/Mark Jamison/Roslyn Layton: They are the deregulatory think tankers leading the FCC transition team. Wheeler was an Obama technology and FCC transition team leader and got the big chair, as was former Republican FCC chairman Mark Fowler. Fowler confirmed for the Wire that he “was in charge of supervising the transition teams of all major regulatory agencies, including the FCC” back in the Reagan years, so there is precedent for the pickers becoming the picked.

 

David Fellows: A telecommunications industry vet spanning engineering and operations, he’s the co-founder and chief technology officer of Layer3 TV, the Denver-based, self-described “next-generation cable operator,” and is also serving as chief scientist of the cable-focused Energy 2020 initiative. Fellows has deep experience in various facets of the telecom and tech sectors, including past key roles at MSOs (Comcast and AT&T Broadband), major suppliers (Scientific Atlanta, now part of Cisco Systems), telecom (GTE) and as a venture capitalist (Genovation Capital and Pilot House Ventures).

 

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.): He is a member of the House Communications Subcommittee, though he does not have a high profile there. Cramer was also an early Trump supporter, which appears to count a lot with the President-elect.

 

Brandt Hershman: An Indiana state senator with telecom deregulation chops and a degree from Harvard, he is said to be a suggestion from VP-elect and former Indiana congressman and governor Mike Pence, who is leading the transition. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the next chairman had connections with Indiana,” said one FCC transition watcher.

 

Rep. Marsha Blackburn: The Tennessee Republican is another early, and vocal, Trump supporter who is a member of the transition team executive committee, though she may be looking for a bigger post. She is vice chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and has been very active on communications issues.

 

Ann Coulter: OK, that’s a long, long shot. But the conservative commentator was another early (and late) Trump supporter and last summer all but campaigned for the FCC post, telling Business Insider she would take aim at big media companies she said had “just gotten very powerful and very unfair,” something Trump echoed in criticisms of the proposed AT&T-Time Warner and approved Comcast-NBCUniversal deals and his attacks on media news outlets in general.

 

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One World Sports, Facing Reported Woes, Looks to ‘Bright Future’

One World Sports, the niche sports network that has been the go-to channel for distributors locked into, or looking for alternatives to, onerous carriage contracts, is having some money problems of its own, according to sources last week.

 

Sports news website Awful Announcing first reported the channel had furloughed workers in an effort to cut costs, and in fact had considered bankruptcy and failed to pay employees and vendors for months. Sources said last week the network — with access to 43 million homes but mostly carried on lightly penetrated sports tiers — had lined up an investor that backed out at the last minute, prompting the need to take quick action.

 

One World CEO Sandy Brown said some of the reported signs of financial distress weren’t accurate but didn’t give specifics. He said talks were ongoing with a potential investor and he was optimistic a deal would be reached. “We’re very excited about where the network is headed,” Brown told The Wire. “We’ve got a very bright future and we’ve just got to get through this.”

 

The channel is owned by One Media Corp., a Dallas investment firm headed by Seamus O’Brien. He’s also the owner of the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League, and Cosmos games air on One World Sports. That team and the league itself are in financial difficulties, according to reports. OWS also airs international hockey, basketball and golf matches, along with table tennis and badminton competitions. It’s landed several deals with distributors that were otherwise locking horns with pricier networks.

— Mike Farrell

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