Obama Picks Digitally-Savvy Genachowski to Lead FCC

Last Updated Jan 13, 2009 12:57 PM EST

Besides the fact they both attended Harvard Law, the resumes of outgoing Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, and Barack Obama's apparent pick to replace him, Julius Genachowski, couldn't be more different.

Martin may be best known for his controversial management style, but he is also largely a creature of Washington, working at a DC law firm, serving on the Bush-Cheney transition team and as a special assistant tp the president for economic policy.

Genachowski, though he's been kicking around DC for some time, is steeped in digital, having been a founder of the venture capital firm LaunchBox Capital and working at Barry Diller's InterActive Corp., for eight years; he has also served in an advisory capacity to a number of online businesses ranging from AOL's Motley Fool to now News Corp.-owned Beliefnet. As for LaunchBox's investments, the profile of the group, taken as a whole, is heavily tilted toward social media companies, with a smattering of mobile, gaming and viral video. In other words, through LaunchBox, Genachowski is probably on top of all the current digital trends.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Genachowski, who was an early Obama supporter, built technology positioning for Obama that included supporting Net neutrality, and increasing broadband access. He also helped construct Obama's online campaign strategy, which was leagues ahead of the McCain team for both its scope and its understanding of how to use emerging media tools, such as Twitter.

What all this means for communications policy is somewhat hard to say, though Genachowski's resume alone portends a marked departure for the FCC, and it may have not that much to do with politics. You could definitely see such a chairman pushing initiatives which lead to digital media for all, from universal WiFi to building a mobile infrastructure that would finally put America's wireless networks on par with those in other countries, where mobile phones are as much media consumption devices as they are communications tools.

As for how he would handle the debate over whether to make the digital TV transition happen on Feb. 17, don't count on him pushing for it to happen on time. Martin has come out in favor of making the switch as scheduled despite the program's lacking funding that would help consumers buy converter boxes. The Obama team is asking for a delay.
  • Catharine Taylor

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