New FCC chairman signals major change

Big change is coming to the FCC. Julius Genachowski, technology adviser to Barack Obama, has been chosen as the next chairman of the FCC. He couldn’t be more different from Kevin Martin.

Genachowski, 46, is very close to Obama — both men went to Columbia College and Harvard Law School and the two served together on the Harvard Law Review. They also were basketball buddies.

Most important, however, Genachowski is a strong advocate of net neutrality — a policy that Internet service providers cannot discriminate by slowing or blocking Internet traffic. He also supports media ownership rules that promote a diversity of voices on the airwaves and prevent concentrated ownership of TV, radio or other networks. He is also known for pushing for broadband penetration into rural areas. Martin opposed net neutrality and loosened media ownership rules.

Genachowski comes from the Internet world. He once worked as an executive at Barry Diller’s IAC/Interactive. As a venture capitalist, he invested in Web 2.0 companies like the social-networking site MyGameMug and the mobile game distributor MPowerPlayer.

He also served as general counsel to former FCC chairman Reed Hundt, as a Supreme Court clerk for Justice David Souter, and as an aide for Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-NY.

Genachowski’s appointment is good news for high-tech companies like Google, Yahoo and eBay and for start-ups in social media and networking. Helping spearhead Obama’s online strategy during the campaign, he used the social networking site Facebook to spread campaign messages and organize volunteers. The Obama transition has also used the video-sharing site YouTube and applications on its transition Web site for weekly addresses.

Genachowski is expected to synthesize those themes on the FCC. “That’s what the next 10 years is going to be about — the integration and convergence of technology and media,” Ted Leonsis, a former AOL executive, told the “Washington Post.”

“Julius is more equipped than anyone for the job in the FCC’s 70-year history to actually understand fundamental dynamics of the market,” said former RCC chairman Reed Hundt.

Losers with the Genachowski appointment will no doubt be cable operators and telcos, currently the largest Internet providers. All oppose net neutrality and many have employed various techniques to limit high-speed users on their service.

On the other hand, the loss of Martin as chairman will likely take pressure off the cable industry regarding the pricing and packaging of TV channels — an issue that had become his pet cause.