NEWS ANALYSIS: The high-profile Federal Communications Commission chairman is leaving the agency after a contentious term that rankled many but also accomplished much.
It’s not often in Washington, D.C., when a government official manages to annoy and sometimes infuriate people from all across the political spectrum. But that’s exactly what Julius Genachowski did, and he achieved that distinction by making his best effort to do his job as he saw fit.
When he took office, Genachowski said that he was going to do what he could to improve access to broadband, that he was going to fight industry consolidation and help promote competition in the telecom marketplace.
Genachowski is probably best known for his fight against the proposed purchase by AT&T of smaller rival T-Mobile USA. His strongly held conviction was that the merger, if approved, would be anticompetitive and would concentrate too much power in one company. While his stance infuriated AT&T, a wide range of activists hailed the move.
But those same activists decried Genachowski’s approval of the merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. This time, they accused the FCC and Genachowski of allowing what he said he would fight again, allowing too much concentration of market power in one entity. Perhaps those activists haven’t noticed NBC’s dismal slide since Comcast took over. Instead of concentrating power, Comcast’s ownership of NBC seems to have diminished it.
But here in Washington it says a lot when a federal regulator can have both the industry and the activists against him at the same time. What it says is that generally he’s doing the right thing and not favoring special interests on either side. But during his tenure, the FCC became a solidly centrist agency. Industry was allowed to flourish within limits, but there WERE limits.
Those limits were demonstrated clearly when companies tried to build their business at the expense of the public interest. Once it got to the FCC, for example, LightSquared’s GPS-killing data service never had a chance. On the other hand, he championed access to reliable Internet services by individuals and businesses everywhere in the country by supporting the development of widely available broadband networks.
In fact, Genachowski’s belief in the necessity of a good, accessible and reasonably priced national broadband infrastructure was core to his mission on the FCC. The National Broadband Plan is the most obvious example of this focus on that core mission, but the importance of access to broadband turned up in a long list of FCC actions, large and small.
Access to broadband under reasonable terms was the basis for the FCC’s net neutrality plan that would require Internet providers to carry all internet traffic on the same basis. ISPs couldn’t favor their own content over others; they couldn’t filter content to prevent access to competitive sites; and they couldn’t throttle content from Internet sites that weren’t paying a fee to the ISP. That particular idea is being challenged by Verizon Communications, even though Verizon and Google came up with net neutrality concept in the first place.