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In the Driver's Seat

It's hard not to like new FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. But count us among those for whom the jury's still out after our interview with him last week 8/01/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Related: Q&A With FCC's Genachowski 

It's hard not to like new FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. He is earnest, engaging and whip-smart.

In one sense, it is in everyone's interest to root for his success. He has a huge and intimidating agenda that may be the FCC's most important ever.

Getting broadband deployment, which means high-speed Internet, right is crucial to the future of red and blue states alike. In that sense, there should be a bipartisan cheering section for Genachowski's successful tenure. Of course, defining “success” will be where the political—and digital—divides must be bridged.

It is understandable to fear, or even bet the farm, that the new chairman will be more regulatory than private industry would like. Then again, that could be said by most communications lobbyists about almost all Democrats. The nation elected a liberal president whose pledges included an open Internet and media diversity. Expect those to be on the new chairman's plate in some form.

Genachowski has promised a data-driven, consumer-focused commission. So long as he is open to data that might suggest the broadcast industry needs regulatory relief, and understands that no consumer benefits from a bankrupt media property, we have no trouble with good data driving policy.

But count us among those for whom the jury is still out on the chairman after our interview last week. On the plus side, we hope he has finally driven a stake through the heart of the Fairness Doctrine. But he also said one very troubling thing for those—including this publication—who have been pushing for less broadcast content regulation in the face of more competition. Sadly, the chairman pledged his support for such regulation. “I am convinced that in a world where there are millions of Americans for whom broadcast television is their only video medium, that the core justifications for commission action in this area are unchanged,” he said.

And we are just as convinced that competition has dramatically changed that equation and provides an opportunity for the government to rethink content regulation of a major news medium.

The chairman also said the mission had not changed “in a world where broadcast television still is, even in many of the homes that receive other forms of programming, the dominant and most-watched form of programming.” That sounds a little too much like multichannel video regulation by proxy.

One more thing. In his initial interviews with major news organizations, he was often vague in his answers, with the explanation that he doesn't want to prejudge issues ahead of the data he says will be driving those decisions. Fair enough. But he is in the driver's seat, and that should not become a method of avoiding questions about where the commission will be headed under his leadership.

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