Senate Sets Genachowski Confirmation Hearing
Change may finally be coming to U.S.
technology policy. U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va, announced June 9 that his
Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a confirmation hearing
June 16 for Julius Genachowski, President Obama's selection to serve as
chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
Obama nominated the 46-year-old Genachowski Jan. 13 to head the agency that often serves as the focal point for U.S. technology policy. As Obama's chief technology adviser during the 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.
The Senate panel will also consider the renomination of Republican Robert McDowell to serve a second term on the FCC. Obama has also nominated Democrat Mignon Clyburn, a South Carolina utility regulator, to fill the seat of departing Democrat Jonathan Adelstein, who has been nominated to head the Rural Utilities Program.
If confirmed by the Senate, Genachowski and Clyburn will join FCC acting Chairman Michael Copps to fill the Democrats' majority on the FCC. Meredith Attwell Baker, the former acting administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is rumored to be in line to claim the second Republican seat on the FCC.
But it's Genachowski's nomination that holds the key to Obama's technology plans, including a major shift in the policy battle over network neutrality.
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 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.