This past week, both FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioner Robert McDowell have announced that they are leaving the FCC in the near future. While their exact departure dates are uncertain, the press is already buzzing with anticipation about who will next lead the FCC, and who will take the place of Commissioner McDowell. The President gets to appoint the Chairman and new Commissioner, but his choices have to be approved by the US Senate. While there have from time to time in the past been delays in the approval process of new FCC Commissioners, with one Democrat and one Republican leaving, there is some speculation in Washington that the confirmation process can move forward in tandem, and hopefully without significant undue delay.
In the interim, the FCC can continue to do business with three Commissioners should the replacements not be confirmed before the departures. But what will this change in the FCC mean for broadcasters? In short, the answer is that it is probably anyone’s guess. There is very little that can be discerned in advance about the impact of the selection of any Commissioner. Certainly, a new Chairman can have a significant impact in shaping the agenda pursued by the Commission, but one never knows exactly what that agenda will be until the Chairman takes his or her seat and starts to act. Sometimes the results are surprising as with the last Republican Chair who introduced many very regulatory proposals to govern broadcasting (see, for instance, the adoption of the Form 355 for television that, had it gone into effect, would have required detailed, voluminous reporting of all sorts of information about public interest programming by television stations; as well as still pending proceedings on sponsorship identification obligations and the initiation of a vigorous anti-indecency regime).