By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
President Obama said yesterday that he will nominate Julius Genachowski, a technology adviser during the presidential campaign and law school friend, to head the Federal Communications Commission.
The announcement came after months of speculation that Genachowski would be tapped for the job and an inadvertent confirmation of his nomination several weeks ago by an administration official during a Sunday morning talk show.
If confirmed, Genachowski will take over a higher-profile FCC charged with devising a strategy to bring new high-speed Internet networks into every home in the nation. But he also will inherit several challenges.
The country is in the midst of a troubled transition from analog broadcast to all-digital television. Congress has struggled to create a communications network for emergency first-responders. And the economy is expected to cast a cloud over the high-tech industry, hampering innovation and competition among telecommunications companies, analysts say.
"Anyone who persists in thinking there was going to be a lot of new entrants for competition have to concede that that will be very unlikely given new capital structures," said Rebecca Arbogast, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus.
Genachowski, 47, will be charged with designing a plan to bring broadband Internet to rural and low-income areas within one year. That will likely involve altering a $7 billion program already used to bring phone service to those areas. And he will have to work with other agencies that will distribute $8 billion in stimulus funds for the construction of new broadband networks in rural areas.
Former chief legal counsel to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt and an executive at Barry Dillar's IAC/InterActive Corp, Genachowski is widely lauded as the first FCC nominee who is both a Washington telecom policy insider and business executive.
But one of Genachowski's greatest assets may be his close ties to Obama. Friends through undergraduate studies at Columbia University and later at Harvard Law School, Obama brought Genachowski into his campaign at the beginning. He wrote Obama's technology and innovation plan for the campaign. And he was widely hailed as the "godfather" of the president's groundbreaking campaign tactics that utilized online social networks and YouTube to raise money and spread Obama's message.
Genachowski is expected to draw from his big Rolodex of private-sector, academic and policy contacts to serve him at the FCC. Before he served Hundt during the Clinton administration, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter. He more recently was founder of local venture capital firm LaunchBox Digital, which funds start-ups primarily in mobile and Web 2.0 industries.
"There's almost an embarrassment of riches at this point in terms of talent," said Blair Levin, a telecom policy analyst and the co-lead of Obama's technology advisory team during the transition. "He will bring together the right people who are experienced and who bring more energy and vision to the FCC and the right combination of points of views."
Genachowski is expected to be confirmed without any major opposition.