Perhaps the worst kept telecom secret in Washington right now is that venture capitalist and former DC wonk Julius Genachowski will indeed be the next FCC chairman. Sources tell us (and other news outlets) that it’s a lock. As such, CableFAX last week held a webinar designed at least partly to figure out what Genachowski might do when he takes over despite the fact that he hasn’t really said a word about it (kind of hard when you’re not yet an official nominee). But the webinar also tackled other related issues, such as how the post-Kevin Martin FCC might operate in a more efficient and congenial manner, not only as related to its own internal processes but also in how it interacts with the industries it regulates. Cable took a drubbing from Martin on many fronts, and many are hoping that Genachowski’s reign will include less drama, scapegoating and vitriol—and perhaps more of that Obama-esque Zen-ness. Of course, the bickering over the stimulus package suggests that Zen balance has its limits.
In any event, these are just a few highlights. Full details are available by ordering the webinar on-demand here.
A Full Plate
Whatever tact Genachowski takes with cable, he’ll be plenty busy. Howard Symons, chair of Mintz Levin’s Communications Practice, ran through a litany of complicated proceedings the new chairman will face going forward. The slate will include everything from net neutrality to privacy to broadband deployment to extra-wonky stuff like intercarrier compensation and universal service. And of course, there’s the seemingly never-ending digital transition that now won’t happen until June 12 (That may fall right in the middle of the NBA playoffs, by the way. Hmmm… ya think they’ll postpone it again?).
With some analysts predicting we could spend up to $2 trillion borrowed smackers on stimulus spending, tax cuts/rebates and financial bailouts, some fear that the FCC to join the party by over-regulating. But Ken Ferree, pres of the Progress & Freedom Foundation, said the new Administration is going to be so busy with big macro-goals that the FCC may not find itself anywhere near the center of gravity. Meanwhile, he said Genachowski is unlikely to be more anti-cable than Martin, who was fixated on content regulation. But Ferree did say that the “New Deal” mentality of Washington “seems sillier with every passing day” when applied to telecom, which increasingly revolves around IP-delivered bits rather than baskets of utility-esque services regulated in different ways. He said a “reform agenda” is coming in 2009-10.
Time for a Reset?
On that front, CableFAX columnist Steve Effros, pres of Effros Communications, said major reforms are in order at the Commission, noting that its unprecedented dysfunction under Martin has created an opportunity for reformers to do more than tweak its processes around the edges. For example, he noted that electronic filing means that potentially millions of citizens can now inundate the FCC with comments filed via the Internet (usually form letters instigated by a special interest). So in order to get more things done, should the FCC stop trying to read them all? He also recounted the dangers of trying to implement too much transparency and pondered whether it’s even time for a 7-commissioner FCC? That point, in particular, stirred much debate among our panel.