But Obama’s pick was equipped with a rare blend of government and private-sector experience. The Harvard Law School graduate counseled former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt and clerked for Supreme Court justices William J. Brennan and David Souter. And he was an Internet executive at Barry Diller’s IAC/Interactive.
At the FCC, Genachowski promised to be “data-driven” in his role, a sort of compromiser in chief. He often assigns staff to pose as “devil’s advocates” on policy issues to make sure he covers all perspectives.
His Socratic tendencies have sometimes irritated the business leaders in industries he oversees.
Billionaire Philip Falcone blames Genachowski for waffling over his $14 billion satellite venture LightSquared, a project the chairman once touted but eventually put on ice because it was said to interfere with military technology.
After the agency rejected AT&T’s merger with T-Mobile last January, AT&T chief Randall Stephenson complained that Genachowski’s staff was slow. “Even the smallest and most routine spectrum deals are receiving intense scrutiny from this FCC, oftentimes taking up to a year and sometimes longer for these to be approved,” he said to investors.
Charlie Ergen, chairman of television service Dish Network, said the agency delayed his wireless venture by 20 months. If the agency were more responsive, he said, the nation would have had Dish as a rival 4G wireless provider next year. Now, it will be well after 2015 before Verizon and AT&T see more competition.
“We are serious about entering the wireless business and are ready to invest another $6 billion into it,” Ergen said. “But this FCC has relegated us to the sidelines.”
Genachowski said the criticism is misplaced. Sometimes the threat of new rules can bring companies in line. Other times, actions have rippled through an industry.
When the agency rejected AT&T’s merger with T-Mobile in early 2011, for instance, it triggered a wave of overseas investment in the industry. Japan’s SoftBank teamed with Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile’s parent, Deutsche Telekom, put money into smaller rival MetroPCS.
Former FCC chairman Hundt, a fellow Democrat and longtime friend, said Genachowski’s mission wasn’t to be a strong-armed policymaker. Unlike his own tenure during the mid-1990s, when Hundt had to pave the way for the creation of the satellite TV industry, Genachowski has a more “evolutionary” mission: extending broadband service to as many Americans as possible.