Kennard, William Earl 1957–
William Earl Kennard 1957–
Federal Communication Commission chairman
William Earl Kennard became the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission after confirmation by the United States Senate on October 29, 1997. Because Kennard had worked for the National Association of Broadcasters, specialized in communications law with a private law firm, and served as the general counsel for the Federal Communications Commission during the twelve years prior to the appointment, he was well-suited for the position. In 1994, Kennard was described as “a lawyer’s lawyer and ethically unimpeachable,” by Broadcasting & Cable He possesses the strong ethical characteristics that are essential for a person heading an agency that oversees the regulation of telephone, telegraph, and cable television services, television and radio broadcasts, cellular and other wireless services, satellite communications, and other technologies.
William Kennard comes from a strong, distinguished family with a long history of accomplishment. His grandfather, James L. Kennard, refused to enroll his son in a segregated black school because it was too far away from his neighborhood. For several consecutive days, he sent his son to the neighborhood school, which was restricted to white students. Each day, Kennard’s son was sent home by the principal. James Kennard refused to back down, however, and eventually the principal relented. Kennard’s father, Robert A. Kennard, founded the oldest continuously operating African American architectural firm in the western United States. During the 1960s, Kennard’s firm was instrumental in rebuilding housing projects, community centers, churches, and hospitals in areas devastated by riots and civil unrest. Robert Kennard was also one of the founders of the National Organization of Minority Architects.
William Kennard has used his position in the telecommunications industry to inspire and assist those who are disadvantaged. In a 1998 speech to the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, an organization founded by Jesse Jackson, Kennard remarked, “If you know you’re right, and you keep fighting for what you know is right, you’ll win. You may not get what you want right away. But you’ve got to keep fighting, and you will win.” In an
At a Glance…
Born William Earl Kennard, January 19, 1957, in Hollywood, CA; son of Robert A. (an architect) and Helen Kennard; married Deborah Kennedy (an attorney), April 19, 1984. Education: Stanford University, California, B.A. with distinction, communications, 1978, Phi Beta Kappa; Yale Law School, New Haven, CT, J.D., 1981.
Career: Legal Fellow, 1981-82, National Associatton of Broadcasters; Associate, 1982-83, Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, Chartered; Assistant General Counsel, 1983-84, National Association of Broadcasters; Partner, 1984-93, Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, Chartered; General Counsel, 1993-97, Chairman, 1997-, Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Member: California Bar, Washington, D.C. Bar; Assistant Secretary, 1986-87, Secretary, 1987-88, Treasurer, 1988-89, Nominations Committee, 1993-1994, Federal Communications Bar Association; American Bar Association; National Bar Association.
Addresses: Office —General Counsel, Federal Communications Commission, 1919 M Street, N.W., Room 614, Washington, D.C. 20554.
Emerge interview, Kennard remarked that he was prepared to make tough decisions, whether it involved wiring schools to the Internet, ensuring that small minority companies have equal opportunities in the telecommunications market, or providing services for the disabled community.
Government service was not always a goal for Kennard. During his college days at Stanford University, he wanted to become an on-air, investigative reporter and spent more time at the school radio station than at the library. He was hired by KRON-TV in San Francisco as part of a summer internship program created for minority students. The general manager of the station introduced Kennard to media management and, after noticing his interest, encouraged him to pursue a law degree. The manager also pointed out to Kennard that he looked too young to be an on-air reporter.
After Kennard graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford in 1978, he enrolled at Yale Law School and received his degree in 1981. As he contemplated his future, Kennard resolved to meet all challenges with the wisdom he learned from his parents. He told Lottie L. Joiner of Emerge, “My parents always taught us to keep a sense of perspective about things in life; that what’s important are character, integrity, the quality of human interaction, human relationships.”
In 1981, Kennard received a one-year fellowship with the National Association of Broadcasters. He then joined the Washington, D.C. law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson, and Hand. In 1983, he accepted a position with the National Association of Broadcasters as assistant general counsel. Kennard returned to Verner, Liipfert, Bernard, McPherson, and Hand in 1984, where he provided legal services to broadcasters, cable television operators, programmers, and cellular telephone providers. That same year, he married Deborah Kennedy, an attorney for the Mobile Oil Corporation.
In 1993, Kennard became the general counsel for the Federal Communications Commission. This position allowed him to promote the use of tax certificates for minority ownership in the broadcasting and cable industry, an issue he believes in passionately. He also supported President Clinton’s controversial Telecommunications Act of 1996.
On November 7, 1997, Kennard was sworn-in by Vice President Al Gore to chair a five-member panel designed to address the many complicated issues that come before the Federal Communications Commission. Among the goals that Kennard hopes to accomplish during his tenure as FCC chairman are: providing equipment such as talking pagers and eye-glaze lasers to the disabled, increasing the number of closed-captioned television programs, ensuring the survival of children’s television, reducing fees for wireless telephone and long-distance services, and lessening the confusion that consumers experience when technological change occurs. He also hopes that all schools and libraries, especially those in communities with less than ten thousand people, will be connected to the Internet.
On April 28, 1998, Kennard met with the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in the United States Senate to discuss the potential impact of the Year 2000 problem on the communications industry. Computer programmers realized too late that most computer programs interpreted the year “99” or a specific date in 1999 as a signal to terminate the program. The Year 2000 problem is one that affects broadcast, cable, radio, satellite, wireline, and wireless services. If not resolved, the Year 2000 problem would adversely affect everything from credit card purchases to air traffic control systems and global financial markets.
William Kennard’s term as chairman of the FCC ends in 2001. According to Seth Schiesel of the New York Times, “When Mr. Kennard took office … he brought with him a widely recognized reputation for being decent, understanding and, simply put, nice.” Kennard is proof that nice guys do not finish last.
Broadcasting & Cable, June 13, 1994, p. 65; August 18, 1997, pp. 16-18; November 3, 1997, pp. 6-7;
Cable World, January 19, 1998, p. 1.
Emerge, April 1998, pp. 38-41.
Jet, November 17, 1997, p. 12.
New York Times, September 29, 1997, p. Dl; November 10, 1997, p. Dl.
USA Today, October 2, 1997, p. B3.
Wall Street Journal, July 28, 1997, p. Bl; October 2, 1997, p. B20; November 4, 1997, p. Bll.
Additional information found on the Federal Communications Commission Website, URL: http://www.fcc.gov/Welcometextonly.html.
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