11.17.2012

Will there be a new FCC Chairman soon?

Federal Communication Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski speaks at the Cable Show in Chicago, June 15, 2011.
Credit: Reuters/John Gress

During the early 2000s, the FCC was more known for it's fight on indecency in the airwaves but since President Obama came to office there has been a concerted effort to deal with more consequential issues.  Now that President Obama is back to work leading the country, I wonder whether or not Julius Genachowski will step down as chairman.  In the meantime, it's probably a good time to review what the FCC has accomplished under Mr. Genachowski's tenure.

The Genachowski Term (2009 - Nov. 2012)*



  • Unveiled the country's first National Broadband Plan. 
    On March 16, 2010, Genachowski released a National Broadband Plan, titled “Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan”.  The plan sets an ambitious agenda for connecting all corners of the nation while transforming the economy and society with the communications network of the future --robust, affordable Internet.   With over 200 recommendations, the plan also lays out ways to reallocate airwaves for mobile broadband and to modernize the FCC's $9 billion per year Universal Service Fund from a program that supports phone service to a program that efficiently supports broadband.
    According to Chairman Genachowski, it is still to early to assess the success of the plan so far but the ultimate success of the plan will depend on how it advances the global leadership position of the US in terms of access, speeds and national policy initiatives.  
    The plan was released to generally positive reviews from public interest and business leaders citing the level of investment in broadband networks a major success indicator, "From 2009 to 2011, annual investment in wired and wireless networks increased approximately 30% to more than $60B, even in this challenging economy."  However, some p
    ublic interest advocates felt it could contain more extensive new regulations.  Still, for such a far-reaching stragegic plan, many of the policies have yet to be fully enacted and others require more time to assess.
  • Transformed the $9 billion per year Universal Service Fund (USF) into a program that supports universal broadband service rather than phone service known as the Connect America Fund.  A main goal of the Connect America Fund was to connect over 19 million American residents and business owners to broadband, mainly in rural areas, by pairing $115M in public funds with private investment.  This was the first time that the FCC had identified mobile broadband as a Universal Service goal.  To address the “spectrum crunch” of public airwaves, in which demand for mobile broadband service overwhelms the available spectrum space, Genachowski's FCC pushed for incentive auctions of broadcast television spectrum.  Even though under this proposal, spectrum license-holders receive a share of the proceeds, they have criticised the plan.  Television broadcasters believe it favored mobile broadband deployment goals over their industry. The auctions gained bipartisan support from U.S. lawmakers and praise from wireless and tech companies as a way to promote investment in wireless networks and drive further innovation.[30][31][32]  Incentive auctions were passed by U.S. Congress and adopted into law as part of the deal to extend the payroll tax cut.[33] Genachowski announced the process would be advised by a team of auction economics experts, led by economist Paul Milgrom.[34]  Genachowski has pushed for spectrum sharing between current government and commercial wireless users in order to improve network capacity.[35] He has also advocated for the preservation and use of unlicensed spectrum bands as platforms for innovation, citing the success of , which uses unlicensed spectrum. Aside from spectrum sharing between current government and commercial wireless users, the FCC has also set aside spectrum for unlicensed use based on the success of  Wi‑Fi.
  • Approved the NBC Comcast merger in January 2011but inserted public interest conditions to promote competition in the video marketplace by online video providers.  However, a year and a half later, Comcast agreed to pay an $800,000 settlement for allegedly violating their agreement with the FCC to market an affordable, standalone broadband deal that was not tied to cable television plans.In November 2011, the FCC moved to block AT&T’s proposed $39 billion bid for rival T‑Mobile. The merger would have combined the second and fourth-largest cellphone carriers in the country, resulting in the largest concentration in U.S. wireless market in history.[39] AT&T withdrew their application days later.[40]
  • Genachowski announced the launch of Connect2Compete in 2011, an initiative to help close the digital divide by expanding broadband and computer access to low-income households. Connect2Compete offers under $10 per month broadband access and under $150 laptops to households with a child enrolled in the national school lunch program.[41] It is a partnership with Internet service providers, technology companies, and nonprofits, run outside government and funded by in-kind commitments.[42] In May 2012, Connect2Compete launched a pilot program to expand access in San Diego. It reports billions of dollars in commitments and plans to launch in all 50 states.[43]
  • Genachowski launched an effort with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to encourage the spread of digital textbooks and create a blueprint on how to harness technology for education reform. In 2012 the FCC and Department of Education joined with technology and education leaders to form the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission to analyze trends and present policy and funding recommendations. LEAD is co-chaired by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, TPG Capital co‑founderJames Coulter, former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Common Sense Media founder and CEO James Steyer.[45][46][47]
  • The FCC also passed a rule to require local television stations to put their public files online. The rule modernized the existing agency rule that requires public files available at television stations in physical filing cabinets. The rule was proposed in an FCC report “The Information Needs of Communities”, commissioned by Genachowski and authored bySteve Waldman in 2011. Since 1938, broadcasters have been required to make a file available to the public containing information on station advertising and other topics. The new rule was passed in April 2012, and initially ABC, NBC, Fox, and CBS stations in the top 50 markets will have to put their file online—in 2014, all TV stations will be required to comply.[50][51][52] Broadcasters resisted the requirement and claimed that administrative costs would be high.[53] Public interest groups and editorial boards such as Bloomberg News endorsed the rule.[54]
  • In January 2012, the FCC released a report and order on implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which updates federal law to increase the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications. Among the reforms was a rule moving Internet video previously shown on television to closed captioning.[55][56]
  • Initially, Chairman Genachowski promised to rein in companies restricting what people can do on their Internet lines, setting a new tone for the agency.[57] However criticisms have become numerous and increasingly vocal among consumer groups and legislative supporters about his lack of substantive accomplishments to date. In particular, his lack of clear commitment to regulating carriers under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, as he had proposed, has engendered a great deal of controversy and concern among supporters ofNet neutrality. Correspondingly, those carriers opposed to increased regulation have attempted to suggest regulatory solutions, a process he has been criticized for encouraging.[57]
Genachowski's tenure has been an ambitious one with a focus on the digital realm.  Whether he stays or goes, the complexities of the job are highlighted by the fact that you can find almost equal numbers of people who can successfully argue that he has overreached or hasn't reached far enough.

* - compiled from Wikipedia.

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