A major piece of President Obama's technology policy fell into place June 25 with the Senate confirmation of Julius Genachowski as the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. As Obama's chief technology adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign, Genachowski promoted a detailed technology and innovation plan that supports network neutrality, expansion of affordable broadband and media-ownership rules that encourage more diversity.
"Mr. Genachowski offers the public and private sector experience needed to reinvigorate the FCC and put consumers first," Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement. "From the content that gets broadcast into millions of living rooms throughout America, to the broadband networks that can bring equal opportunities to our largest cities and our smallest rural towns - the FCC oversees it all."
Genachowski is a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama's who has served as a top aide to two former Democratic FCC chairmen, co-founder and managing director of LaunchBox Digital and Rock Creek Ventures, a former executive with Barry Diller's IAC and a board member of several Internet ventures, including Expedia and The Motley Fool.
"I believe Julius brings just the right blend of talent, experience and dedication to lead the FCC toward the more active role it must play if all our citizens are to enjoy the blessings and bounties of 21st century communications," said Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps.
Under Republican control and the Bush administration for the past eight years, efforts to pass network neutrality laws faced opposition from telecommunications and cable companies, which adamantly objected to the idea of government control over their network management practices.
In the House, a network neutrality amendment to a telco reform bill failed in 2006. The Senate has never had a floor vote on network neutrality, but the Senate Commerce Committee voted against a network neutrality amendment to the 2006 telco reform bill.
Since then, the network neutrality debate has centered around the FCC's legal status and ability to enforce the agency's Internet principles. In August 2005, the FCC declared that consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice, run applications and services of their choice, and plug in and run legal devices of their choice. The FCC also said consumers have a right to competition among network providers, application and service and content providers.
The FCC declared Aug. 1 that Comcast violated the agency's Internet policy when it blocked peer-to-peer traffic by BitTorrent. The agency also found that Comcast misled consumers when it did not properly disclose its P2P policy. While Comcast was not fined for the network neutrality violation, the FCC ordered Comcast to cease the practice and to keep the public informed of its future network management plans. Comcast complied with the order but also went to court to challenge the FCC's authority to enforce the principles.
The FCC is now investigating concerns that Comcast's new network management practices degrade the sound quality of VOIP (voice over IP) services such as Vonage and Skype that compete with Comcast's own VOIP service.