FCC Chairman Had Trouble Pleasing Interest Groups, Industry

Mar 22, 2013
Originally published on March 28, 2013 7:17 pm
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The head of the Federal Communications Commission gathered his staff this morning, 1,700 people, to tell them this...

JULIUS GENACHOWSKI: I'm announcing that I'll be stepping down as chairman of the FCC in the coming weeks.

BLOCK: The FCC regulates your cell phone, your television and the companies that bring you the Internet. Here's NPR's Neda Ulaby.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: In this morning's speech to his staff, Julius Genachowski talked about how their work affects ordinary people.

GENACHOWSKI: People like the high school student in Florida who wrote us a letter saying she does her homework in the parking lot of her local library at night because that's the only way she can get access to be online.

ULABY: Coming up with a plan for all Americans to access high-speed Internet at home was one of the chairman's accomplishments, says former FCC commissioner Michael Copps. He's a Democrat, and he says Genachowski brought a new approach to what had been a Republican-majority FCC.

MICHAEL COPPS: We had been pretty much locked in the let-the-free-market-fix-everything kind of mentality on such things as broadband.

ULABY: Genachowski also deserves credit, Copps says, for stopping a merger between T-Mobil and AT&T. But he did approve the merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. Jim Harper directs information policy studies for the libertarian Cato Institute.

JIM HARPER: I think he's been a competent chairman. Most of what he's done is small ball.

ULABY: That's partly, Harper says, because it's tricky to serve consumers and provide incentives to giant industries.

HARPER: And the FCC's pretty well locked up by interests on both sides, whether it be left or right, business or so-called public interest. The FCC doesn't do much because it's fully lobbied.

ULABY: You'll hear that criticism across the ideological divide, the idea that the outgoing chairman had a rough time standing up for, well, anything.

GIGI SOHN: Being a regulator means that somebody's ox has to get gored.

ULABY: Gigi Sohn runs the nonprofit consumer group Public Knowledge.

SOHN: And it means you're going to make somebody angry.

ULABY: By trying to please everyone, she suggests, Chairman Genachowski pleased no one. She points out that 30 percent of Americans still lack broadband, and getting all Americans high-speed Internet access means more access to jobs, more access to health care and more access to education. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.