Keeping his BlackBerry may be the most pressing telecommunications issue for President-Elect Barack Obama, but there’s also the detail of picking a new FCC chair.
Mainstream media reports this week point to the imminent appointment of long-time Obama friend Julius Genachowski to replace current Chairman Kevin Martin.
Genachowski met Obama at Harvard Law School, later became chief counsel to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt in the mid-1990s, worked at IAC/InterActiveCorp and then became a venture capitalist. In that role, he invested in or advised companies including Expedia, Hotels.com, Ticketmaster and The Motley Fool.
Genachowski is already an adviser to Obama’s transition team. The unknown detail for Obama naming him FCC chairman is the timing.
That probably won’t happen until after Obama’s inauguration Jan. 20, sources familiar with the plans said. Martin will step down and current Commissioner Michael Copps is expected to become interim chairman until Genachowski is confirmed by Congress.
The confirmation process should move quickly because Congress will have a Democratic majority. Genachowski could be on the job by spring. Consumer advocacy groups Free Press and Public Knowledge both issued statements today praising his expected nomination.
Meanwhile, the FCC itself remains focused on the digital television transition. Obama’s team supports delaying the Feb. 17 analog signal cut-off date, which concerns Martin because of the likelihood of public confusion. The prospect also concerns public safety groups because of their existing plans for certain spectrum bands.
A delay may also lead to minor setbacks for wireless carriers that need the to-be-vacated analog television spectrum for upcoming LTE networks. Verizon Wireless previously stated its intent to operate some level of LTE network by the end of this year, although that was disclosed before the delay of Verizon’s Alltel acquisition closing.