Alaskan Dropped from FCC Board Amid Questions

An Alaskan appointed to a federal Communications Commission board, was dropped after a letter from Governor Sean Parnell’s Chief of Staff asked for a change. In early March, Senator Mark Begich’s staff put forth the name of Jim Kohler for a place on The Technical Advisory Board for First Responder Interoperability. That board deals with connectivity for a national public safety broadband network.

Kohler is Alaska’s deputy director of Enterprise Technology Services for the state department of Administration. Begich spokeswoman Julie Hasquet says they worked with the Governor’s DC staff on the nomination.

“We had reached out to the Governor’s office in DC and said that we were considering nominating Mr. Kohler for this board because he had been the person that we deal with on telecom issues in DC, and the Governor’s office in DC basically said, great idea, we think that is a good idea to support him for the nomination, we will work with you.”

Hasquet says Kohler seemed ideal for the position and he was accepted to the board.

“And then it looks like that’s not happening. So it’s just a big disappointment, we’re not sure what happened because we were working with the Governor’s office and now they have withdrawn his name.”

Senator Begich sent the nomination letter to the FCC on March 7th. On the 22nd, the FCC sent out a public notice naming all the board appointees. That list included Jim Kohler’s name, along with 13 others from states across the country. But on March 26th, Governor Parnell’s Chief of Staff Mike Nizich sent a strongly worded letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski saying Kohler was not the Governor’s choice and asked that Matthew Leveque, deputy director of the state Troopers be placed on the board instead. The result? The FCC removed Kohler and replaced him with someone from the lower 48, leaving Alaska out. Julie Hasquet says that’s a disappointment.

“Any time you have an opportunity to get an Alaskan on a national board that’s going to be discussing the future of telecommunications and broadband, that seems like a great opportunity. Because we always feel that we want the Alaska story told and the Alaska issues understood, so again it’s unfortunate that because of whatever has gone on, post nomination, we are now not going to have an Alaskan on that board.”

Parnell staff in DC and Alaska did not return repeated emails and calls this week for this story. Kohler serves on the Alaska Broadband Task Force with twenty other Alaskans including Senator Joe Paskvan, a Democrat from Fairbanks. Paskvan has written to Governor Parnell requesting an explanation.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori