FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Balanced Business, Public Interests

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-03-23

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Balanced Business, Public Interests

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.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Balanced Business, Public Interests

Another aspect of Genachowski’s drive for universal broadband access is a reorientation of the radio spectrum to give more access to users with wireless devices. When the FCC moved television broadcasters to digital signals, it freed up a lot of broadcast spectrum that could be used for other purposes. In many cases those frequencies were put up for auction to wireless companies who needed the bandwidth for broadband access.

In the end, however, Genachowski’s accomplishments have become more widely appreciated. Sprint Nextel, which stood to lose a lot because of the actions of larger wireless carriers, clearly noted its appreciation for Genachowski’s hand on the tiller.

“From his decision to block AT&T’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile USA, to his efforts to reform the Universal Service Fund, inter-carrier compensation, special access and wireless Lifeline…Genachowski has repeatedly stood up for consumers and competition,” said Vonya McCann, vice president for government affairs in a prepared statement.

“His foresight to create the country’s first National Broadband Plan laid the groundwork to provide more wireless spectrum to help meet the demand of consumers and businesses across the country. Sprint appreciates his courageous leadership and his commitment to competition. Our industry and the American economy are better off as a result.”

T-Mobile, as you might expect, also appreciates Genachowski’s actions at the FCC. "Chairman Genachowski has provided significant leadership on key regulatory decisions that are fundamental to the future development of the wireless sector and more broadly the telecommunications and media industries, said T-Mobile CEO John Legere.

“Rapidly changing industries such as ours require thoughtful leadership, such as that provided by Chairman Genachowski, to insure that the benefits of new technologies, service offerings and business models are enjoyed by American consumers and businesses alike," Legere said.

Tom Sugrue, T-Mobile’s senior vice president for governmental affairs, noted the FCC chairman’s stand on competition. “During the course of his tenure, he has been a champion for competition—using a light regulatory touch when market forces can solve a problem, while at the same time not shying away from intervention when necessary on issues such as roaming, which have brought measurable benefits to consumers,” Sugrue said in a prepared statement.

Over the next few days there will be statements of praise from some along with statements urging the selection of a new chairman who more closely identifies with one pressure group or another.

But perhaps we should let Chairman Genachowski have the last word here, taken from his speech to FCC employees as he announced his departure. “While there are challenges ahead in this fast-moving, globally competitive sector, a revitalized FCC is prepared to continue taking them on. I’m deeply grateful to President Obama for his vision, friendship and the opportunity to serve our country.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done together to harness technology to advance the American dream for the 21st century. I know you’ll continue to fight hard to fulfill this agency’s vital mission, and I look forward to continuing to work together until my last day at the agency, and to count you as family and as an inspiration for long after that,” Genachowski said.

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