FCC Chair Nominee To Face Senate

Julius Genachowski The Senate Commerce Committee is slated to hold a confirmation hearing Tuesday for well-known net neutrality advocate Julius Genachowski, President Barack Obama's choice to head the Federal Communications Commission.

Genachowski's nomination earlier this year was cheered by some digital rights supporters, who expect him to be a strong force for improved Internet access and open networks. Genachowski -- a former Harvard Law classmate of Obama and his chief technology officer during the presidential campaign -- has long argued for net neutrality, or the principle that Internet service providers should not restrict content, as well as the need to improve broadband availability.

Now, a coalition of media access advocates has proposed a series of questions for Genachowski that appear to be aimed at allowing him to publicly affirm his views. In a letter sent to committee chair Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the organizations suggest that lawmakers ask Genachowski whether he believes that "broadband has become a fundamental prerequisite for economic and civic participation" in the country, and whether he is satisfied with the current broadband penetration rate. (The Pew Internet & American Life Project estimated last year that 57% of Americans have broadband at home.)

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Signatories include The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Prometheus Radio Project, United Church of Christ Office of Communication, Inc., Media Access Project, Public Knowledge and The Center for Rural Strategies.

The groups also suggest inquiring about his views of the current system, in which many people have a choice of only two broadband carriers -- their local telecom or cable company. "Is this sufficient competition and deployment?" they ask.

As for net neutrality, they propose that Genachowski be questioned about whether he agrees with the Obama Administration's support for "the basic principle that 'network providers should not be allowed to charge fees to privilege the content or applications of some Web sites and Internet applications over others.'"

Those questions don't seem likely to yield any surprises, given Genachowski's track record. What could be more telling are his answers to questions that appear to reflect the views of the telecom and cable industry. Those companies have argued that the FCC should hesitate to impose any new requirements because the current state of broadband shows that past policies have been successful.

For instance, in a recent FCC filing, Comcast argues that "regulatory restraint" helped induce cable companies to build high-speed broadband networks that have "succeeded beyond anyone's predictions."

"That service is now available to over 92 percent of American households and subscribed to by over 39 million of those households," the cable company says.

Broadband advocates view the situation differently. Free Press argues in a recent FCC filing that "premature deregulation" has been a failure, resulting in broadband service that is slower and more expensive than in many other countries.

 

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