Well, last night I attended my 17th straight annual Federal Communications Bar Association Chairman's Dinner--along with 1800 others. The Chairman's Dinner is an annual highlight of the FCBA's activities, honoring the FCC Chairman.
There may be a severe downturn in the telecom and high-tech sectors, but you wouldn't know it from surveying the crowd. There certainly doesn't appear to be a recession in the legal and consulting community that looks to provide services to the beat-up communications and high-tech companies. Each year the dinner grows larger with more and more of the $1000 tables snapped up by the handful.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want to sound cynical. It takes a lot of lawyers (and, yes, a few economists too) to figure out the impact of changing the network ownership rule from 35% to 45%, or 39%, where Congress ended up. And it takes a lot of lawyers (and, yes, a few economists too) to get the TELRIC rate just right, based on the very latest hypothetical network.
I can remember the first few Chairman's Dinners when the crowd was less than a third the size of last night's horde, when you could actually find your table without a map, and when the FCC chairman just stood up and gave a humorous, self-deprecating talk (except that one exception over a decade ago when a chairman gave a non-humorous, serious talk attacking his opponents. That was a no-no.) There were no Hollywood-style, ritzy-glitzy videos back then, or even a slide show with transparencies. This year Michael Powell gave an appropriately humorous, self-deprecating talk that had people belly-laughing, and the Hollywood-style video, featuring Kudlow & Cramer and Powell doing a "No, I'm not leaving the FCC" riff, was pretty darn good. There were cameo appearances in the video by everyone from Walter McCormick to Rupert Murdoch to Conrad Burns. (Use your imagination!) Oh, and there was the usual Dick Wiley joke ("Anyone in the room with two degrees of separation from Dick Wiley please stand up. I counted four out of 1800 who stood up.)
Trying to get to the bar in this bar group was well-nigh impossible, so I just tucked away my free drink coupon for next year.
Well, I had about as much fun as I can stand in one night. And best of all, because there were 1800 of us there, the FCBA raised many thousands of dollars for scholarships for needy DC kids.