Genachowski leaving the FCC changed for the better

22 March 2013 by Steve Blum
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FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in San Leandro last month.

Julius Genachowski made it official this morning, stepping down as chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He’s leaving behind an agency that is arguably keeping pace with the industry it’s regulating, something few agencies or politicians in Washington can do. With the telecommunications industry increasingly shunning copper-based telephone service as it shifts to delivering broadband via wireless and fiber optic technologies, it is no small achievement.

During his chairmanship, the FCC took a bulldozer approach to clearing spectrum – regulated and unregulated – for wireless broadband use, adopted “shot clock” rules for local approval of new cell towers and antennas and pre-empted local regulation of modifications to existing wireless sites.

Carriers are investing billions of dollars in wireless spectrum, infrastructure and services because they have a fair degree of confidence in the regulatory environment. That’s rare these days, and Genachowski deserves a lot of the credit.

Genachowski is an out-front advocate for fast broadband, pushing for the construction of new fiber optic networks and greater adoption of the services that ride on those systems. The FCC’s subsidy programs – particularly the Universal Service Fund – have been redirected toward broadband growth.

Commissioner Robert McDowell is also leaving. By design, the FCC has two seats set aside for each of the two major parties in Washington, with the chairman’s appointment tipping the majority toward whoever is in the White House. McDowell fills one of the Republican seats.

Once Genachowski’s and McDowell’s resignations take effect, the FCC will operate with three commissioners, Democrats Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn and Republican Ajit Pai. By all appearances, they work well together. For now, the FCC’s attention will be weighted toward the future.

Agree or disagree with their policy choices, we need forward thinking people on the commission. The telecommunications environment of 2050 will be as different from 1950 as 1950 was from 1850. In the last four years, the FCC has made the shift from 1950s telephone thinking to a twenty-first century broadband mindset. They got it right.