WASHINGTON-Julius Genachowski's June 16 Senate confirmation hearing to serve as the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission was more a condemnation of former Chairman Kevin Martin than a critical examination of President Obama's choice of Genachowski to head the agency that has the most direct impact on the Internet.
On the other hand, most of those who might oppose Genachowski's nomination didn't even bother to show up. Of the 11 Republican members on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, only two appeared at the hearing here: ranking member Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns, who made an opening comment praising Genachowski-"If you aren't qualified, then I don't know who is"-and quickly departed.
With the path cleared for a Democratic cheerleading session for Genachowski, who is likely to win full Senate confirmation before Congress' July 4 holiday, Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia chose to blast Martin's administration of the FCC.
"I want an FCC that is transparent, that inspires confidence and that makes our digital infrastructure a model for the world," Sen. Rockefeller said. "Tragically, this has not been the case for some time. So, Mr. Genachowski ... let me be very clear about the challenge before you. Fix this agency or we will fix it for you."
First and foremost, Rockefeller stressed that the FCC should be consumer-oriented in its policy decisions.
"Too often, FCC commissioners have focused on making sure that the policies they advocate serve the needs of the companies they regulate and their bottom lines," Rockefeller said. "Time and again, the FCC has shortchanged consumers and the public interest. Show us that the FCC can put consumers first and give them confidence that when they interact with the agency they will get a fair response."
Genachowski dutifully promised he would.
"As communications devices and networks become ever more essential to the daily lives of every American, and as the media landscape changes dramatically, the need has never been greater for an FCC that sees the world from the perspectives of consumers and family," Genachowski said.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) praised Genachowski for having the "perfect background" to run the FCC and warned Genachowski, "It seems to me that you will lead a rather unhealthy agency. We've been through a period of substantial secrecy."
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, Genachowski is widely considered to be an architect of Obama's technology and innovation plan, which supports "the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet."