Genachowski Praised as Obama’s Reported FCC Pick

News of President-elect Obama’s reported selection of Julius Genachowski to head the Federal Communications Commission is drawing praise from both public advocacy and industry groups.

A report in the Wall Street Journal said that Obama planned to name the former tech executive and venture capitalist to the position, confirming rumors that had circled for weeks about how Obama would fill one of the key tech policy spots in his new administration.

Genachowski earlier served as one of Obama’s top technology advisors, authoring his ambitious technology plan. A prominent Washington venture capitalist, he also co-founded Rock Creek Ventures and has served on the boards of several tech companies.

“Julius Genachowski is an outstanding choice for FCC Chairman,” Gigi Sohn, president of the digital rights group Public Knowledge, said in a statement. “As the architect of President-elect Obama’s Technology and Innovation Plan, it is clear that he understands the importance of open networks and a regulatory environment that promotes innovation and competition to a robust democracy and a health economy.”

The National Association of Broadcasters called the choice “superb,” and Verizon said Genachowski’s nomination would be a “great boost for the nation’s drive to be the world leader in all things broadband.”

It’s a closely watched move for many in the technology and media sectors. The FCC figures to play a key role in advancing several planks of Obama’s tech agenda, including network neutrality, broadband deployment and a competitive communications industry.

As one of the architects of the Obama tech agenda, Genachowski’s thematic priorities seem clear. He is an advocate of Net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers should be prohibited from blocking or degrading certain applications on their networks. He will also likely use the FCC’s regulatory mechanisms to promote investment in broadband infrastructure.

Rebecca Arbogast, an analyst with Stifel Nicholas, looks for Genachowski to promote competition in the broadband market through policies favorable to the wireless industry.

“We suspect Mr. Genachowski would seek to spur and protect competition from wireless carriers [such as] Sprint, Clearwire, T-Mobile and others as a counterweight to telco/cable wired broadband dominance,” Arbogast wrote in a research note.

Advocacy groups such as Free Press have long been calling for the FCC to take steps to break the so-called duopoly of cable and telecom providers by encouraging a third pipe for broadband.

Genachowski would need to be confirmed by the Senate, a process which could take several weeks or months. Arbogast said that the confirmation process could be accelerated by the urgency of the digital television transition. Obama and some lawmakers have called for pushing back the Feb. 17 date for shutting off analog TV signals to give the government more time to ensure that consumers are prepared.

In the meantime, Obama is expected to appoint one of the two Democratic commissioners, Michael Copps or Jonathan Adelstein, as interim commissioner next week.

Kevin Martin, the current chairman, has not given any indication as to whether he plans to stay at the FCC as a commissioner or leave the agency. Republican Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate recently announced that she was leaving the FCC, which would leave a spot open for Martin, if he opted to stay on.

Genachowski is a longtime friend of Obama dating back to their days at Harvard Law School. More recently, he was a top executive with IAC, and did a stint in government as chief counsel to for FCC Chairman Reed Hundt during the Clinton administration.

A spokesman for Obama did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Journal story, which cited an unnamed Democratic source close to the transition team.

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