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Obama: No One Better to Head FCC Than Genachowski

Making good on weeks of rumors, President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated a former Harvard Law classmate as the new FCC chairman.

Julius Genachowski still faces Senate confirmation; those proceedings could be put off for a while, however, depending on when Congress has time outside of debates surrounding the economy, the Iraq War, and health care reform.

Genachowski’s name has topped the list of people to succeed Kevin Martin since December, beating out the likes of former FCC chief of staff Blair Levin and even FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps. Genachowski served as a tech adviser on Obama’s transition team but more importantly, Genachowski and Obama have known one another since they attended Harvard together.

Obama said he could think of “no one better” to head the FCC.

“He will bring to the job diverse and unparalleled experience in communications and technology, with two decades of accomplishment in the private sector and public service,” the president said in a prepared statement.

Indeed, the communications industry has waited for several months to learn who would take over the FCC. Competitive carriers want someone who will rein in forbearance petition approvals and re-examine special access pricing rules, among other issues. Cable operators simply want fair treatment – they often perceived Martin as trying to regulate them without warrant. To be sure, a Congressional committee last year found that Martin instructed subordinates to rewrite a cable penetration report to show the industry had reached a threshold that would trigger additional FCC oversight.

Meanwhile, wireless carriers and VoIP providers will want clarity on Universal Service Fund rules; and incumbents – well, incumbents might be disappointed by a Democratic chairman. For eight years under Martin, LECs and Bells secured unprecedented regulatory relief, so much so that the telecom landscape resembles – although not exactly – the old Ma Bell world. Obama has stated his support for competition in communications, as well as for net neutrality, a principle many established providers would rather not have as law.

But as a technology venture capitalist and longtime businessman, Genachowski should be able to traverse the delicate balance of capitalism and consumer protection. For example, while CLECs want the FCC to protect UNEs and other access methods, they also don’t want the government imposing so many regulations that costs exceed returns. Frankly, that idea applies to most providers and their respective associations are expressing optimism about Genachowski’s appointment.

“Julius Genachowski’s notable business background, hi-tech focus, and considerable telecom and legal experience make him a sound candidate to lead the FCC as the promise of broadband becomes a reality for consumers nationwide,” said Michael Brunner, CEO of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, in a statement.

The American Cable Association’s (ACA) Matt Polka agreed.

“The president has made a good choice to head a crucial agency like the FCC at a time of rapid technological change,” ACA president and CEO Matt Polka said.

“Under Genachowski’s leadership, we hope the FCC will appreciate that small, independent cable operators have made the investment needed to provide high-speed Internet access to millions of Americans living in rural communities in all 50 states,” said Polka, president and CEO of the ACA.

Genachowski will face a number of pressing matters once he’s confirmed. The FCC is consumed with the transition to digital TV; that deadline was moved last month to June 12 because of sloppy planning, and consequent consumer confusion, under Martin’s leadership. Commissioners also must decide whether to approve two pending forbearance petitions from Verizon Communications Inc. – that is, unless an appeals court reverses an earlier FCC denial, which would be a serious monkey wrench for commissioners. In essence, Genachowski will not be stepping into an ideal situation – and that means the communications industry should learn right away what to expect from him over the next four years.


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