December 2, 2016–At his last Federal Communications Bar Association’s Chairman’s Dinner, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last night offered both jokes about FCC observers as well as quips and praise for agency staff. Mr. Wheeler, who at last year’s dinner had several jokes making fun of then-Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump (TRDaily, Dec. 4, 2015), acknowledged Mr. Trump’s surprise presidential victory as soon as he took the stage last night by calling the event “the 2016 Democratic job fair.”
He also mentioned “the elephant in the room, and in the White House, and in the Senate, and in the House.” Mr. Wheeler also compared himself to the president-elect, noting their age, the fact that both had no government experience, are tall, and don’t like criticism.
Regarding controversial FCC proceedings, Mr. Wheeler used the set-top item, which is on circulation but is not likely to be adopted, as a punch line throughout his remarks. In 2016, he noted, “Fidel Castro died, yet the set-top box regime lives on.” Mr. Wheeler also noted that Facebook has drawn criticism in the wake of the election for fake news stories on the Internet. “Fake news?” he asked. “Now I don’t think Comm Daily’s that bad.”
“I don’t mind living in a post-truth world. Because that means I get to read stories about how the set-top box proposal is still alive,” he joked. “Some of the criticisms of the set-top box plan are true: It is a job killer – especially at the U.S. Copyright Office,” the Chairman also said. He also noted that NCTA has removed “cable” from its name. “So the ‘cable’ industry is no more, but the set-top box regime lives on.”
During this year, he also noted, New York City disabled Internet access to kiosks because people were using them to watch pornography. “Man, Anthony Weiner ruins everything,” Mr. Wheeler said, drawing one of his biggest laughs.
At that point, FCC General Counsel Howard Symons came out and handed something to Mr. Wheeler, who joked that Mr. Symons had passed him “a Chairman’s Dinner cease-and-desist letter from Congress” to not talk about controversial topics.
So Mr. Wheeler said he instead would focus on “the outstanding FCC staff.” He then when on to rib and praise various current and former members of his office as well as current and former bureau chiefs. For example, he joked that former special counsel Diane Cornell was so vigorous in the FCC reform initiative that Commissioner Mike O’Rielly “asked her to dial it down.” He also quipped that former legal adviser Daniel Alvarez was a “white-hat hacker,” adding, “Don’t be surprised if all the FCC computers start deleting the word forbearance.”
And Roger Sherman, former chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, “wisely left the Commission knowing that there’s no way he’s going to top a $41 billion auction,” the Chairman said. Mr. Wheeler also called Office of Engineering and Technology Chief Julie Knapp “our national treasure.” “Julie’s OET team has improved American lives in more ways than we can measure, including having approved the Samsung Galaxy [Note] 7,” Mr. Wheeler said, referring to the device that was recalled after some caught fire.
Mr. Wheeler also said of Gary Epstein, chair of the Incentive Auction Task Force, “Gary’s turn with the FCC has been extended more times than Gilligan’s on the island.” And of Travis LeBlanc, chief of the Enforcement Bureau, he said, “Travis achieved the impossible: He pissed off more people than I did.” And Edward (Smitty) Smith, Mr. Wheeler’s wireless, engineering and technology, consumer affairs, and incentive auction legal adviser, “is universally admired despite going by the nickname of a shifty chimney sweep,” the Chairman joked.
But he called FCC Chief of Staff Ruth Milkman “the rock” and counselor Gigi Sohn “the conscience of the Commission.” “To work with these people at this point in time has been the greatest professional honor of my life,” the Chairman said of agency staffers, choking up.
“We all have a front-row seat to one of the most transformative technological [periods] in human history,” he added. “We get to write the next chapter of the American story. How lucky we are indeed.” – Paul Kirby, email@example.com