At age 35, Rachelle Chong could easily be taken for an inexperienced Federal Communications Commission member who happened to fit the profile the Clinton administration needed at the time: female, Republican and a residence outside the Beltway.
But that would be a mistake.
Intelligent, ambitious and poised, the former San Francisco communications attorney brings a wealth of wireless telecommunications experience and youthful energy to the agency.
Chong appears to be well liked and respected by her peers. “She’s fun, she’s terrific,” says Rudy Baca, an aide to veteran FCC member James Quello.
David Siddall, a legal adviser to Commissioner Susan Ness, said he also is impressed with Chong. “She’s intelligent and she’s up on all the issues,” Siddall commented.
As the first Asian-American to sit on the commission, Chong practiced telecommunications law before state and federal regulatory agencies for 10 years before President Clinton nominated her in March to fill the Republican seat of former Commissioner Sherrie Marshall. She joined the FCC in May.
“I find it somewhat ironic that it took a phone call from the White House to get me to come back,” said the good-natured Chong in an interview.
Chong worked at a Washington, D.C., law firm in the mid 1980s before moving back to northern California where she grew up as the youngest of three, third-generation Asian-American children. Her mother passed away a few years ago; her father still resides in Stockton, Calif.
White House headhunters tracked Chong down after Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kan., rejected one female candidate for the job, purportedly because she wasn’t Republican enough for the minority leader.
Regardless, Chong rounded up support from prominent California politicians, capitalized on the opportunity and landed back in the nation’s capital.
Chong and her husband, who makes his living securing communications sites, make their home in the Washington area and brew beer in their spare time. In between, she says she explores the Internet for speech material and other interesting tidbits of information. Chong played on an FCC softball team this summer, and said she misses her beloved San Francisco Giants. She likes reading mysteries and is a Star Trek fan.
Because of conflicts of interest resulting from her and her husband’s jobs, Chong did not vote on the narrowband personal communications services and broadband PCS pioneer’s preference rulings.
At the San Francisco law offices of Graham & James, Chong represented some of the country’s biggest cellular and paging operations, including McCaw Cellular Communications Inc., PacTel Corp., Mobile Telecommunication Technologies Corp. and American Paging Inc.
“The most important thing I would like to do while I’m here is to promote what I’ve been calling simple, pragmatic regulation,” said Chong.
Rules for broadband PCS and auctions do not exactly fall into that category, according to Chong. Some guidelines are too complex and could discourage rather than encourage women, minorities and small businesses to take a chance on PCS, she said. When lobbied, Chong said she listens for how businesses might be impacted by FCC regulations.
Chong said her forthright style shouldn’t be read as, “*`Rachelle had this political agenda that she just had to get out every single decision.*. It’s important for me to cooperate and to listen to what other commissioners say. We’re all very different, from very different backgrounds.”
As such, she said reaching a consensus is always the goal. Like others at the commission, Chong said she would prefer to interact with Chairman Reed Hundt’s office sooner rather than later in rulemaking proceedings, but realizes the overflowing FCC agenda doesn’t allow her to be fully briefed on every issue.
I think you’re going to see some of the current players in wireless scrambling to be as innovative as possible with spectrum
Included in her regulatory philosophy is a belief in competitive markets, like the one in California where cellular carriers and resellers battle it out every day. In that regard, Chong is less than enthusiastic about a proposal requiring cellular carriers to provide subscribers with equal access to long-distance carriers. “Equal access was aimed to ensure that a provider who had a bottleneck monopoly would be fair (in) terms of providing (long-distance) access,” said Chong, but “that concern is alleviated once you have competitors.” Cellular carriers agree with her.
She believes PCS and enhanced specialized mobile radio companies will be that competition for cellular.
“I believe PCS is going to be great,” stated Chong, “and I think you’re going to see some of the current players in wireless scrambling to be as innovative as possible with spectrum to offer new services that people haven’t even thought about.”
Chong is quick to point out that women, minorities and small businesses being offered auction incentives should be aware of the risks involved and suggested they seek partnerships that lend management, technical and financial expertise.