Genachowski May Enhance FCC Clout

Jan 18, 2009  •  Post A Comment

President-elect Barack Obama’s expected appointment of longtime friend Julius Genachowski as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission will put the agency’s leader closer to power than any FCC boss in recent administrations.
Mr. Genachowski’s close relationship with President-elect Obama stretches from Harvard Law School to a role leading the transition team’s technology policy wing. That may mean the FCC leader’s role will expand beyond its customary scope, potentially including reworking tech policy and playing a role in crafting the government’s economic stimulus package.
Mr. Genachowski’s background as a legal scholar—he was a Supreme Court law clerk—may also lead him to play a stronger role in determining legal strategy on FCC court cases—normally a task left to the Justice Department.
Mr. Genachowski and the Obama transition team declined to comment.
President Obama’s first move at the FCC this week is to name someone other than Mr. Genachowski to lead the department on an interim basis. One of the two FCC Democrats, Michael Copps or Jonathan Adelstein, is expected to be designated temporary chairman, pending Mr. Genachowski’s Senate confirmation.
The interim appointment could happen as soon as Tuesday, people familiar with the matter said. That gig may not last long. The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to move swiftly to schedule hearings and a vote on Mr. Genachowski’s confirmation, in part because many of the committee’s members were never happy with the agency’s direction under FCC chairman Kevin Martin. Mr. Martin last week said he would step aside Tuesday.
When Mr. Genachowski does become chairman, his biggest immediate task will be working on the digital TV transition, which seems likely to move to June 12 from the original date of Feb. 17, in part at President-elect Obama’s urging. Some colleagues of Mr. Genachowski suggest he will move quickly to revamp the FCC in technology, transparency and top personnel—and to focus far more on long-term strategy than his predecessor did.
They also say he’s likely to move to implement the Obama campaign’s Technology and Innovation Policy.
James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, a group devoted to children’s media issues, has Mr. Genachowski on his group’s board.
“He’s a good choice for a very critical time in technology,” said Mr. Steyer, who also is a law professor. “He’s worked [at the FCC]. He’s worked for Barry Diller [chairman of IAC/InterActive Corp] and he’s very balanced in his understanding of law.”
He suggested that a quick look at President Obama’s agenda will give a pretty good idea of Mr. Genachowski’s.
“This is a chance to build a historic legacy at a transformation point [for technology],” said Mr. Steyer.
Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of advocacy group Public Knowledge, worked with Mr. Genachowski on an advisory committee on the public-interest obligations of digital TV broadcasters, and has known him for 15 years.
She suggested Mr. Genachowski’s close personal ties to the new president could impact the FCC, with the agency playing a bigger role in carrying out the president’s will.
She also predicted Mr. Genachowski will bring policy changes—especially in pushing media diversity and ownership issues and in seeing that Internet service providers don’t favor some content providers over others.


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