Exciting Times for Policy Buffs

By Edo Steinberg

As John Lennon said, life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans. Prof. Barbara Cherry had intended to go on sabbatical during the spring semester. She was going to finish writing a book integrating almost two decades of research, but circumstances led her to indefinitely postpone the sabbatical.

“To make the sabbatical work, I would have needed to make significant progress on the manuscript, or at least my outline for it, before the sabbatical itself started,” Barb says. This part of her plan was disrupted by two deaths in the family and a riding accident which resulted in two broken ribs. “My energies were obviously diverted for a spell from being able to focus on the book prospectus.”

By December, it had become clear to Barb that it would be wiser for her to delay the sabbatical. Not only had she not gotten as far as she would have liked in laying the groundwork for the book, but there were developments in Washington related to the topic of her book. “It became clear that the timing wasn’t going to be right for the book I wanted to work on for two reasons. One, the book would likely not come out soon enough to be an input to the debate on policy issues as I had hoped; and number two,  if I went ahead with it, then the book would not be able to reflect the latest developments that were occurring.”

“In the policymaking world, it’s ‘timing, timing, timing,’” Barb paraphrases the real estate adage. “My energies would be better spent going ahead with pieces of my research, not in book form, but with papers and more active presentations and involvement in Washington itself.”

Barb has taken a few trips to DC lately. She and Telecom lecturer and Indiana State Representative Matt Pierce have had meetings on Capitol Hill and at the FCC about legislation passed in Indiana, which they believed was adverse to consumer interests. In addition, “in January I went to Washington to speak on some panels and before a special task force established by the current president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions (NARUC). Meanwhile, in January, my mentor, Steve Wildman, became Chief Economist at the FCC. I’ve also been asked to make a presentation to the FCC’s Technology Transitions Policy Task Force at the end of April.”

“The window of opportunity to get something done is not yet open. It’s coming – soon, but exactly when is unpredictable,” she says. A case before the DC Circuit Court of Appeals concerning whether the FCC has jurisdiction allowing it to make net neutrality rules will have an impact on policy. If the court strikes down the rules, either the FCC would have to reclassify broadband as a telecom service or Congress would have to pass new legislation. Another change in the policy world is the upcoming end of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s term.

“The sabbatical is just postponed until I can better determine the appropriate time to most effectively use it,” says Barb. “Sabbaticals aren’t an entitlement. You don’t just take off. It has to be for an express purpose that is approved by the university.” Not only does she not know when she will take the sabbatical, she doesn’t know what she would use it for yet. “This is part of what the real world is going to tell me, based on activities this year.” She will probably use it to write a book, but spending more time in Washington is also an option.

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