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Obama appoints lobbyist to head FCC transition, reports say

President-elect Barack Obama's selection of a lobbyist and DC insider to head FCC transition team could be bad news for the tech community.

So much for change.

Telecom policy circles are a buzz with the news of Barack Obama's pick to head the Federal Communications Commission transition team. Obama is reported to have chosen lawyer and DC insider Henry Rivera, a former Democratic FCC commissioner, lobbyist, and currently a partner at communications law firm Wiley Rein.

Henry Rivera Wiley Rein LLP

Rivera is not currently registered as a lobbyist, but according to the Center for Responsive Politics, he lobbied for the Catholic Television Network in 2001. In his capacity as a lawyer, he has represented major wireless carriers, a local exchange carrier, and a major airline in FCC-related matters.

Rivera's law firm is also the former home of Kevin Martin, the current FCC chairman, and is arguably one of the schmooziest lobbyist telecom legal firms in Washington. It employs several former FCC commissioners as well as a significant number of former FCC employees. Of course, Rivera and the other lawyers at Wiley Rein are not the only people at the FCC to leave government for high-paying lobbyist gigs--the practice is widespread.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than 100 former FCC employees have also worked in the private sector. At least 50 percent of them have lobbied on issues related to telecom, communications, and broadcast at some point in their careers. In fact, the FCC is the agency with the third-highest number of employees who have shuffled between the public and private interests focused on the federal government, behind only the White House and the House of Representatives.

This is not to say that Rivera is a bad guy. Art Brodsky, the communications director at public interest group Public Knowledge, described him as "one of the best FCC commissioners ever." However, the selection does seem to suggest that Obama's pick to replace Martin as current FCC chairman will likely be another Washington insider. For public interest groups and technology firms hoping for pro-consumer rules on spectrum and broadband policy, this choice of someone so chummy with the established telecom interests could be bad news.