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January 2009 | Volume 12/ Number 1
The Zippy Files

And the Next FCC Chairman is... ?

Although many members of the outgoing Bush administration were accused over the years of being too receptive to the wishes (or even whims) of the wealthy in general and big business in particular, one of the more endearing characteristics of outgoing Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin was that he could, on occasion, miraculously draw the simultaneous ire of both the telecom industry and consumer groups.

As we went to press, the world waited with proverbial baited breath (okay, maybe just us telecom pundits were excited) as President-Elect Obama prepared to name his nomination for the new FCC (News - Alert) Chairman. The two names most often heard in this regard have been Julius Genachowski and Blair Levin. The latest rumor – previously bolstered by the Washington Post– was that Obama had selected Genachowski, a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama who co-founded Rock Creek Ventures and LaunchBox Digital. He was Chief Counsel to former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt (former FCC Chairman during the Clinton Administration) and he has served as a special adviser to the global equity firm General Atlantic.

Genachowski was in charge of formulating the president-elect’s technology and innovation agenda. This agenda presumably includes the communications industry, though we’re only heard bits and pieces of Obama’s ideas in this area. Superficially, it sounds good: deliver universal broadband Internet (truly universal, to all Americans), and is an advocate of “net neutrality”, hopefully defined the way that Brough Turner (News - Alert) does, which doesn’t center on IP routers and IP pipe connectivity at network Layer 3, but at Layer 0, dark fiber. (We should regulate dark fiber and give control of the fiber to homeowners and businesses, allowing them to pick which ISP lights up their fiber.)

How I miss the more competitive atmosphere that existed in the days of Martin’s predecessor, Michael Powell, a man who loved gadgetry in general and VoIP in particular. The concept of “government by special/private interests” has now become so rooted in the American Psyche (not to mention the actual workings of government) that one wonders if there’s anyone out there who can stand up for the public interest. Powell had his flaws (e.g. his somewhat Puritanical stance and dogged pursuit of nefarious forces behind the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction”) but I’d love to see him back in his old post right now.

Of course, I’m always available (wink-wink).

But regardless of whoever becomes FCC chairman, the FCC itself faces an increasingly complicated and vaguely unsettling communications landscape. Advanced technology makes a mockery of the traditional hierarchical communications network structures that dominated the whole 20th century, even though the august players in that hierarchy continue to try to exert their influence over the government and public.

We can only hope that our upcoming President, Barack Obama, will make an inspired choice to fill what used to be a lackluster position. (Indeed, an urban myth from the 1950s relates how the paperwork of some political hack’s appointment to the SEC (News - Alert) was mistyped “FCC” and so history was changed, presumably not necessarily for the better.) IT

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