The Federal Communications Commission may soon have a new chairman according to Washington blog, The Hill. The site reports FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is ready to leave his role as head of the agency, and says his name has been floated as the next Secretary of Commerce. The blog says:
Even if Genachowski doesn’t take the Commerce job, both he and the White House have reasons for his leaving his FCC post in the near future. The White House would like to see a more decision-oriented FCC chairman who manages to incubate industry skirmishes at the agency rather than allowing them to seep over to Pennsylvania Avenue, sources said. ….Industry sources said the ceremonial duties of the Commerce secretary position, which is heavy on promotion for the president’s agenda, might better suit Genachowski’s skill set. His focus on unleashing innovation syncs with the White House’s strong interest this year in promoting the technology industry, these sources noted.
Genachowski took the role of FCC chairman in June 2009 and has presided over the agency’s attempt to enshrine network neutrality principles into formal regulations as well as the creation of the National Broadband Plan, which is heavy on feel-good policy goals but light on the fundamental issue that besets U.S. broadband: the lack of competition in wireline infrastructure. However, his focus on mobile broadband has resulted in a flurry of investigations such as inquiries relating to Apple (s aapl) blocking Google (s goog) Voice on the iPhone or Verizon’s phantom data charges (s vz) and pro-consumer moves such as the instigation of Bill Shock legislation.
However, the agency was bogged down in its network neutrality fight and also suffered a significant blow in the courts early on in Genachowski’s tenure after Comcast (s cmcsa) sued the agency for overstepping its authority when it censured the cable provider for blocking P2P packets. Ironically, it was Genachowski’s predecessor that had censured Comcast, but the repercussions embroiled Genachowski’s FCC in debates about its authority to regulate network neutrality as well as its ability to regulate broadband. Now as the agency sets up to reform the Universal Service Fund and fight for incentive auctions to wrangle spectrum from the TV broadcasters for the mobile broadband industry, it’s not like life at the agency will get any less contentious.
Some of my sources have pointed out that many of Genachwoski’s biggest faults appear to be his failure to politic well in Washington in order to win people over to his agenda. If that’s true, then perhaps a role hobnobbing with business leaders and innovators as President Obama focuses on startups and the economy is a better place for Genachowski. His background as an entrepreneur (Genachowski used to run LaunchBox Digital, a Washington, D.C.-based startup accelerator program similar to Y Combinator and TechStars) certainly would help there.
The Hill suggests the timing on all this could happen in the coming months. That doesn’t give Genachowski much time to secure his legacy at the FCC. However, I will give Genachowski credit for reaching out to Silicon Valley in his tenure at the agency, and hope that the dialogue between the two coasts can continue from both sides.
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