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FCC: How will changing of the guard impact big telecom issues?

From universal broadband to 'Net neutrality, FCC's Julius Genachowski's team will have its plate full

By Brad Reed, Network World
January 15, 2009 05:37 PM ET

Network World - Now that Julius Genachowski has been selected  by President-elect Barack Obama to chair the Federal Communications Commission, he can expect to be a very busy man over the next four years.

Once Genachowski officially takes over the FCC later this month, he will have to deal with immediate challenges, such as the impending transition from analog to DTV, as well as more long-term goals, such as deciding whether to impose 'Net neutrality rules and bringing broadband to underserved regions. As if that weren't enough, Nemertes Research analyst and Network World columnist Johna Till Johnson says that the decisions that Genachowski and the FCC make over the next four years could very decide "the fate of the Internet."

But before diving into the specific issues on the FCC's plate, it's useful to have some basic background information on its incoming chairman. Genachowski had previously worked at the FCC as the chief counsel to former FCC chairman Reed Hundt and has also been a senior executive at the IAC/InterActiveCorp e-commerce company, as well as a member of the boards of directors for Internet companies such as Expedia and Hotels.com. During the 2008 presidential election, Genachowski served as chairman of the Obama campaign's Technology, Media and Telecommunications policy working group, and he is a leader on the Obama transition team's policy working group on technology, innovation and government reform. Obama and Genachowski have known each other since the early 1990s, when the two men worked at the Harvard Law Review while students at Harvard Law School.

Although Genachowski's background is more in the legal realm than in the technology domain, Johnson says that she is cautiously optimistic because Genachowski seems to have a good grasp of the big-picture issues facing the telecommunications industry.

"One of things I liked about Genachowski is that when he was working for the Obama campaign, he accurately articulated the biggest problem facing the United States from a technology standpoint, which is the underinvestment in technological research at the educational and university level," she says. "We're still living off the proceeds of the research and development investments we made in the '60s and '70s."

The issues at stake

Genachowski's most immediate challenge will be to oversee a successful transition from the old analog television broadcasting system to the new digital system that is due to officially switch over on Feb. 17. So far, President-elect Obama has called upon Congress to delay the switch in order to give U.S. consumers more time to educate themselves about the transition and to learn what equipment they may need to buy in order to receive digital signals on their old analog televisions. Outgoing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, however, has said that it would be a mistake to delay the DTV transition and has instead proposed extending the deadline for consumers to purchase discounted digital converter boxes through the government's converter box coupon program. No matter whether Congress decides to extend the DTV deadline, the switch is certain to consume the first few months of the FCC's time as the commission works to figure out how many Americans are still in the dark about how to purchase a DTV converter box.

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