What the New FCC Chairman Must Do

julius-genachowski-thumb1President-elect Obama will name Julius Genachowski as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the Wall Street Journal said today, adding weight to similar reports in the Washington Post from a few weeks ago. Aside from being Harvard buddies with Obama, Genachowski runs LaunchBox Digital, a Washington, D.C.-based startup accelerator program similar to YCombinator and TechStars. He may not fully represent the outside-the-Beltway perspective that we were looking for, but he does understand two things that should offer comfort to Silicon Valley — startups and new media.

More importantly, Genachowski is replacing Kevin Martin, who has proven to be such an enemy of the citizens, so obviously biased in favor of the big phone companies (he was a lobbyist, after all), that anyone with a sense of fairness and common sense would look like an improvement.

Genachowski and ultimately his boss, President Obama, will have to work hard to shift the focus away from incumbent telecommunication providers, and to ome up with a broadband strategy befitting a country that has long been a technology leader and innovator. Instead of focusing on today’s access technologies of DSL and cable, the new FCC must focus on nurturing future opportunities. We’ve talked to some of our most trusted sources to come up with a detailed technology and broadband task list for the new administration to tackle. It includes:

  • An Internet user bill of rights, with a focus on citizen privacy. Or as contributor Alistair Croll says, “Internet of the people, by the people, for the people.”
  • A focus on one key metric for all FCC decisions: a relentless obsession that helps the U.S. return to the global forefront of Internet and mobile technology.
  • An emphasis on future technologies (mostly wireless) that boost marketplace competition. For instance, large increases in license-free bandwidth could could lead to a lot of innovation without spending too much government money.
  • Special incentives to attract new players (and not older companies) that bring broadband to the masses.
  • Incentives or tax breaks for incumbents to reach specific deployment goals before the end of 2010. Incentives will only be granted after those goals are met and broadband speeds of upwards of 20 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up for less than $50 a month without bandwidth restrictions are available. This trades tax credits for rapid improvements to our nation’s broadband infrastructure.
  • Better and more connectivity to office buildings, especially from newer players.
  • An IP- and broadband-centric, rather than voice-centric, approach to reforming the Universal Service Fund.
  • Policies that bring quality of service into the wireless agenda, and penalize wireless companies which have high numbers of dropped call complaints.
  • An understanding that web monopolist Google, and other web companies, are not the consumer’s friend, so their agenda shouldn’t automatically be trusted.

According to a Stifel Nicolaus report, Genachowski will likely have the following effect on the main industries the FCC regulates:

  • Incumbent Telcos: Will see their influence wane, especially when it comes to securing protection for landline broadband access, but not disappear.
  • Cable MSOs: Will probably be better than Martin (who pushed, for example, for à la carte cable pricing), but Genachowski is also expected to “spell out digital public interest duties and be skeptical of industry requests for relaxation of ownership limits.”
  • Wireless Operators: Will help promote wireless broadband access in a variety of ways likely to benefit incumbents as well as new entrants. The battle lines will be drawn between wired broadband access and wireless, rather than the incumbents vs. the upstarts on this particular issue.

Genachowski was Obama’s top technology adviser during the presidential campaign, according to the Journal, and raised a considerable amount of money for the effort. Prior to incubating startups (so far only nine startups have graduated from LaunchBox, among them BuzzHub.com, Koofers.com and Heekya.com, and none have really become household names yet), Genachowski was chief of business operations and a member of Barry Diller’s office of the chairman at IAC/InterActiveCorp. He’s not entirely foreign to the FCC, as he served from 1994-1997 as chief counsel to then-FCC Chair Reed E. Hundt. For other positions, check out his Muckety map.

There’s no guarantee that Genachowski’s experiences will translate into consumer-friendly policy decisions on net neutrality, broadband access and competition, and other issues before the FCC, but his appointment does give us some hope — especially with regard to net neutrality and understanding the benefits of a fat pipe into the home to push web content. His willingness to assure consumer privacy on the web is a bit doubtful given his experience in new media, where advertising remains the dominant revenue source, but we eagerly wait his Senate confirmation to see which fights he takes on.

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