Genachowski: ‘Unleashing the Benefits of Broadband Was the Highest Priority’

Exiting FCC chairman reflects on his tenure

By John Eggerton — Broadcasting & Cable, 3/26/2013 12:49:18 PM

After hugs and pre-goodbyes with staffers and fellow commissioners last week-he is not leaving the agency for several more weeks-departing FCC chairman Julius Genachowski spoke briefly with B&C Washington editor John Eggerton, emphasizing the point that the mission of the FCC is to promote broadband.

What’s next for you?
I have no plans. I am focused on the work of the commission and will continue to do that until I leave. [A source close to the chairman says he plans to attend the National Association of Broadcasters convention April 8-11, where he is scheduled for the annual chairman's Q&A. And look for him to still preside over the FCC's April 18 meeting.]

You have taken some heat from both ends of the political spectrum. Is the push for broadband what moderated your regulatory approach and forced you to focus on getting it out there the best way you could?
I think that’s right. Unleashing the benefits of broadband was the highest priority. It affects every industry. But even larger than that, it is a very important issue for our economy and the American people. One of the things that is gratifying is that the American broadband economy is thriving. We’re seeing big increases in private investment and innovation, new services and applications for consumers. On a global competitive basis, the U.S. has regained global leadership in key areas. We are in a global bandwidth race, and the U.S. is in a very strong position.

If you had to pick one highlight of your tenure, what would it be?
It’s hard to pick one. I’ll pick four: Transforming the Universal Service Fund from telephone to broadband; seeing incentive auction legislation pass Congress; putting strong and balanced open Internet rules in place; and taking big steps to promote broadband competition.

You mentioned incentive auctions. You are leaving with the incentive auctions still at the beginning of the process. What shape is it in?
In 2009, when I rang the alarm bell on a spectrum crunch, people said there was no spectrum crunch. In early 2010, when we introduced the incentive auction idea, people said that would never happen. The goals that I set out were to get the country focused on spectrum crunch, get the legislation passed and move forward on other steps to free up licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Things have moved much faster than anyone would have thought, and much more has gotten done than anyone would have predicted. Having said that, there are challenges ahead and they will be with us for a very long time. That is why one of the things I focused on was strengthening the agency so that it could continue to do the work of the American people for a very long time.

What’s the status of media ownership?
No change since the last news. [A vote on Genachowski's proposal for changes to the regulations is awaiting completion of a diversity study.]

Now that you can start to look back, what do you see?
I think one of the things that was gratifying at the meeting [where the chairman gathered staffers to tell them of his decision to exit] was seeing the faces in the room and seeing that everyone in the room was working in a revitalized agency. They understand the mission of the agency-unleashing the benefits of broadband for our economy and the American people. I’ve had a long history with this agency, as you know. I was here in the 1990s [as a top aide to then chairman Reed Hundt]. I deal with staff every day, but it was a poignant moment for me and one I will remember for a very long time.