Obama Taps Julius Genachowski as FCC Chair

Former FCC Chief Counsel Welcome Name to Industry Groups

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- President-elect Barack Obama's choice of Julius Genachowski to head the Federal Communications Commission is being greeted with rave reviews from public-interest groups and a warm welcome from industry groups.

Julius Genachowski
Julius Genachowski
Mr. Genachowski, a lawyer and friend of Mr. Obama since their Harvard University days, is a former FCC chief counsel and co-founder and managing director of Rock Creek Ventures, a venture-capital firm. He was a key telecommunications and technology adviser to the Obama campaign, helping to craft the extensive Technology and Innovation Plan on the campaign's website. He has also been a member of the Obama transition team.

'Superb choice'
The expected appointment -- the Obama transition office still hasn't confirmed or announced it -- was praised by National Association of Broadcasters President-CEO David K. Rehr as a "superb choice."

"Julius Genachowski has a keen intellect, a passion for public service, and a deep understanding of the important role that free and local broadcasting plays in American life," he said.

Some who know Mr. Genachowski predict he will bring a marked change in policy and style from current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

Clear goals
"We are going to see an overarching strategic agenda, clear goals and strategy for meeting those goals," said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge. Ms. Sohn worked with Mr. Genachowski on an advisory committee on the public-interest obligations of digital TV broadcasters, and has known him for 15 years.

While she predicted Mr. Genachowski will bring major policy changes -- especially in pushing media diversity and ownership issues and in seeing that internet service providers don't favor some content providers over others -- she predicted the biggest change would be that FCC policy offices would have far greater authority to make decisions.

Relevant experience
"He's not just a public servant. He was in business. He knows how to manage. I do see a more decentralized management style that leaves a lot of the details to [senior FCC officials]," she said. She contrasted that style with that of Mr. Martin, who has been accused of micromanaging agency decisions.

Former FCC Chairman Bill Kennard, now managing director of the Carlyle Group, called the choice of Mr. Genachowski "brilliant." "He will be an extraordinary chairman. No chairman in recent history will come to job with as much relevant experience. He knows the FCC well. He knows the internet. And he knows the president very well and will be able to carry out his policies. It's an inspired choice. It's wonderful."

Mr. Kennard predicted Mr. Genachowski will move quickly to open up the FCC's policy deliberations to greater public scrutiny, but pointed for other guidance to the Obama campaign's Technology and Innovation Plan, a plan mostly written by Mr. Genachowski.

Developing technologies
"Clearly there will be profound differences, reflecting the difference in this administration. This administration embraces technology and is looking to make technology a centerpiece of its governing and the economy," Mr. Kennard said. He said technology is being viewed as a way to bolster the economy.

Leslie Harris, president-CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a group working for an open internet, said she is confident Mr. Genachowski will be a chairman who understands the importance of the open internet and the need to encourage and support innovation."

She also cited Mr. Genachowski internet and venture-capital background, predicting it would bring a new sensitivity to the risk that FCC policies and regulations could harm small and upstart innovators that are central to the culture and development of the internet.

"As the commission pursues its focus on established and traditional telecommunications companies, it needs to be aware of how its work might impact new and developing technologies," Ms. Harris said.

More diversity
Besides supporting rollout of higher speed internet, that plan called for more diversity in media ownership and for the government to step in to assure that internet service providers don't give favored internet sites a faster path to consumers' doorstep -- so called net neutrality. It suggested that concerns about children and the media be answered by giving parents more control, hinting that the FCC would be less active in indecency enforcement. The Obama transition office's website includes similar language.

After leaving the FCC, Mr. Genachowski from 1997-2005 was chief of business operations and general counsel and a member of Barry Diller's office of the chairman at IAC/InterActive Corp.

Mr. Genachowski also serves on a number of corporate boards and on the board of the consumer group Common Sense Media, a group "dedicated to improving the media and entertainment lives of kids and families."

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