Genachowski Likely to Champion Openness as FCC Chief

President-elect Barack Obama has selected former Internet executive and venture capitalist Julius Genachowski to be the next head of the Federal Communications Commission.

Genachowski, who was classmates with Obama at Harvard Law School, is expected to receive an easy confirmation from the U.S. Senate. Genachowski was chief counsel for Reed Hundt, an FCC chairman during the Clinton administration.

He has been an executive at a number of Internet companies, including IAC, and has served as a director or advisor to such companies as Web.com, Ticketmaster, The Motley Fool, Beliefnet, Truveo and Rapt.

He was a member of CEO Barry Diller’s office of the chairman at IAC, serving as chief of business operations and general counsel.

Genachowski is also a cofounder and managing director of Rock Creek Ventures, a Washington, D.C.-based venture capital firm that invests in technology companies.

The outgoing FCC chairman is Kevin Martin.

New Kind of Chairman

Genachowski differs from past FCC chairmen in a variety of ways.

“He’s pro-Internet,” Colin Gillis, director of research at TheStreet.com, told the E-Commerce Times. “This guy comes from an Internet background. He’s a seasoned Internet executive who worked under Barry Diller.”

Genachowski also understands the world of early stage technology and telecommunications startups, Gillis said. “He’s been a venture capitalist. He wants to encourage ecosystems where businesses can grow and thrive, and not be throttled by established players.”

Genachowski’s experience in the technology and venture capital worlds is likely to make him more sympathetic to the issues faced by smaller companies, Gillis speculated. “This guy isn’t going to side with large, established players.”

Open Platforms

Genachowski can be expected to favor open technology and telecommunications platforms over closely held, proprietary platforms such as Microsoft’s Windows operating system, according to Gillis.

“Let’s take the recent situation where Microsoft and Verizon got together,” he said. “Microsoft made a big push to become the No. 1 choice for mobile search. I think this is something where [Genachowski] would want to champion more open platforms such as Google’s Android.”

The Digital TV Switch

If confirmed by the Senate, Genachowski will have a significant issue to deal with right out of the gate: the congressionally mandated switch from analog to digital television signals.

Obama has already called on Congress to delay the switch.

“The digital switch is coming hard,” Gillis said. “I would not be surprised to see that deadline get extended. We still have a lot of pain in the economy — people are losing their jobs, houses are being foreclosed, and some are arguing that now is not the time to transition to digital TV. To push that deadline out for another six months would make it so that there is one less item for U.S. consumers to deal with.”

Genachowski could also play a key role in Obama’s economic stimulus package, which encompasses a variety of industries, including technology and telecommunications.

“[Genachowski is] clearly a tech-savvy guy,” Gillis said. “We’re lagging other countries in terms of broadband adoption. We need to keep driving on those initiatives. The Internet cloud is only useful if we can access it.”

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