Julius Genachowski told the Senate Commerce Committee that it was an honor to be nominated to take the Chair of the Federal Communications Commission, and expressed his excitement about getting on with the job should the Senate confirm his nomination. As expected, it looks like getting a national broadband plan into place will be a top priority of a Genachowski FCC regime.
Democrats on the committee were looking forward to Genachowski’s term, making no bones about their bad feelings about the past two chairmen (Michael Powell and Kevin Martin, both referred to but not by name).
Both Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) were interested in indecency enforcement, with Rockefeller adding excessively violent programming to his pet peeve list. Rockefeller wanted an more open and transparent FCC; Hutchison wanted to make sure broadcasters and internet providers aren’t overburdened with regulation, and noted her distrust of the network neutrality principle.
Mike Johanns (R-NE) perhaps indicated that Genachowski’s confirmation would be easy, saying if his resume wasn’t enough to qualify for the job, then nobody’s is. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) suggested Genachowski pay attention to net neutrality (noting that he could handle that issue without Congressional intervention and save Congress the trouble), as well as public interest obligations for broadcasters and unwinding excessive consolidation.
Asked about transparency by Rockefeller, he said openness would be a priority for his FCC administration. He said ease of navigation on the FCC website should be a goal – in fact, the FCC should be a model of using communications technology to communicate with the American people.
Genachowski said he shares concerns with Hutchison and many parents have about indecent programming, mentioning his involvement with children’s watchdog Common Sense Media. He said the FCC’s job is to enforce the law, and it will enforce the law.
As for consolidation, he told Hutchison it can be a problem, but on the other hand, the FCC cannot ignore changes in the marketplace. The quadrennial review should involve compilation of accurate data, and should be an open, fair process. He also noted that the FCC already has rules for failing and distressed stations.
He told Mark Pryor (D-AR) that he would continue to explore legally viable ways to increase minority ownership of communications licenses.
Back on indecency and violence, he told Pryor that he believes in the power of technology to get results – things like the V-Chip to help parents control the content that their children see are great, and he would encourage innovation in this area.
Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said she supports LPFM, and opposes consolidation and relaxed cross-ownership rules. Her worry — AM stations getting FM translators will choke LPFM before it gets going. Genachowski said that there are creative ways to tackle such issues that need to be sought out.
What about white spaces, Cantwell wondered? Will office of Engineering and Technology make this a priority? He said the answer was yes, and welcomed talking about another creative use of spectrum to put more of it to use.
On the internet, Genechowski said a market with unlimited competition would eliminate the need for network neutrality, but otherwise implied that it would be needed.
RBR/TVBR observation: There were no surprises here, and we still think Genachowski is a shoo-in for confirmation. We were not pleased to hear about his willingness to embrace unlicensed devices in white spaces, which we believe needs a lot more work before implementation. And we hope he will put the emphasis on blocking technology rather than punishment when it comes to indecency enforcement. And we believe that although broadcasters will certainly not go unnoticed at the Genachowski FCC, they will certainly be in the back of the station wagon while broadband gets the lion’s share of attention. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.