FCC Watchers Hopeful, Cautious About New Chief

Published March 1, 2009

President Barack Obama’s pick for chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, is receiving praise from advocates of stricter FCC oversight of the telecom industry while eliciting guarded optimism from analysts who urge more market freedom and a consistent regulatory stance from the agency.

Genachowski, an advocate of issuing rules for how Internet service providers manage their traffic—a concept known as “net neutrality”—served as general counsel for FCC during the Clinton administration. He also has extensive experience in the tech industry.

Genachowski’s resumé gives free-market advocates reason for cautious optimism.

“Genachowski has stellar qualifications and industry experiences that can help him revamp an FCC whose various missions are sorely outdated,” said Braden Cox, policy counsel of the Association for Competitive Technology in Washington, DC. “However, let’s hope he doesn’t just rebuild the FCC.

“Instead, he should call on Congress to overhaul communications law to remove technology distinctions and regulatory mandates,” Cox said. “The FCC of the future should focus on creating markets, not controlling them, and should start by quickly getting more [of the electromagnetic] spectrum into the marketplace.”

Balanced Experience

Mike Masnick, founder of Techdirt, a blog focusing on technology news, says he’s “heard good things about [Genachowski] from many different people.

“I understand that he’s interested in hearing from all parties and considering the consequences of what he’d do,” Masnick said. “On the whole, I tend to think [his appointment] is better than rotating in a pure bureaucrat or former telco industry lobbyist into the position.

“I’m still not convinced the FCC is actually needed—but given that it’s there, there could have been far worse choices,” Masnick said.

Bringing Clarity?

Philippe Perebinossoff, associate professor of radio, TV, and film at California State University-Fullerton, said he hopes Genachowski will bring clarity and consistency to FCC policy.

“Is the FCC now going to regulate violence? Is the FCC going to seek to regulate cable? Will Genachowski support a la carte programming, which [requires providers to allow] consumers to pay for only those channels they want?” asked Perebinossoff, who spent a decade working as a censor for ABC.

“I have a great deal of faith in Obama’s intelligence and his picks, but I know that the broadcasting industry is very worried about what could happen at the FCC,” Perebinossoff he said.

James G. Lakely ([email protected]  is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Infotech & Telecom News.