President-elect Barack Obama has announced he plans to nominate Julius Genachowski to head the Federal Communications Commission in his administration—a move that has been greeted by applause from media reformers and open media advocates. The FCC is currently run by Chairman Kevin Martin, whose tenure has not been without controversy: under Martin’s watch, the FCC approved the merger of Sirius and XM satellite radio as well as AT&T and Bellsouth, and significantly eased restrictions on cross-ownership of newspaper and television outlets in the same markets; the FCC has also played a major a role in overseeing the transition to digital television and establishing principles for an open Internet—and the FCC recently sanctioned cable operator Comcast for violating those principles.
The story was first broken by the Wall Street Journal, and later confirmed by the Obama transition team.
Julius Genachowski was a classmate of Barack Obama’s at Harvard Law School and helped write Obama’s "Technology and Innovation Plan," where Obama outlined a technology and media agenda for his administration. Genachowski previously served as chief counsel for Reed Hunt, who served as FCC head under the Clinton administration, and later worked in the technology industry, sitting on the boards of companies like the Motley Fool and Ticketmaster, as well as working as general counsel for General Atlantic and Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActive Corp. Genachowski appears to have been chosen because of experience in the technology and media sectors as well as familiarity with Washington culture and processes.
Media reform and open media groups are applauding the choice of Genachowski, noting Genachowski is generally in favor of open markets and open networks in the believe they foster a diversity of media which better serves the public than a media controlled by a handful of large conglomerates.
"The challenges facing the next FCC are enormous—a vast digital divide, an open Internet in jeopardy, consolidated media ownership, newsrooms in economic freefall, and entrenched industries invested in maintaining the status quo," said Free Press executive direct Josh Silver, in a statement. "This moment calls for bold and immediate steps to spur competition, foster innovation, and breathe new life into our communications sector. With his unique blend of business and governmental experience, Genachowski promises to provide the strong leadership we need."
For the most part, the broader media and telecommunications industries have yet to comment publicly on the nomination; it remains to be seen whether they will work to block Genachowski’s confirmation.