The effort to stop President Obama from tapping his long-time ally appears to have failed: He’s preparing to nominate Core Capital Partners Managing Director Tom Wheeler to replace Julius Genachowski as FCC chairman, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing “two people familiar with the matter.” Four years ago Wheeler ran Obama’s transition effort for science, technology, space and arts agencies. He also lobbied for the cable industry from 1979-1984 when he was president of the National Cable Television Association, and then represented wireless phone companies as CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). Wheeler’s status as an early favorite for the FCC job seemed to fade this month when Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller launched an effort to elevate Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel — formerly the committee’s Senior Communications Counsel. Rockefeller and 36 other senators told Obama in a letter last month that Rosenworcel “understands and respects the relationship between the FCC and Congress.” Rockefeller also has been critical of Wheeler’s background. “A lobbyist is a lobbyist,” the senator told reporters. But an odd-bedfellows coalition of public interest advocates and business people rallied behind Wheeler. Public Knowledge CEO Gigi Sohn says that he “will not allow the FCC to become irrelevant as broadband becomes the dominant mode of communication in this country.” Another activist group, Free Press, is less confident. Wheeler does not appear to be willing to use the FCC “to stand up to industry giants and protect the public interest,” CEO Craig Aaron says. “But he now has the opportunity to prove his critics wrong, clean up the mess left by his predecessor, and be the public servant we so badly need at the FCC.”
Julius Genachowski just officially confirmed reports that he will leave “in the coming weeks.” That has those who follow FCC matters wondering who President Obama will name as a successor — and whether that person will share Genachowski’s belief that the Internet should be cultivated as the nation’s chief communications medium. The smart money is betting on Tom Wheeler, who’s Managing Director of Core Capital Partners and is close to the president. Four years ago he ran Obama’s transition effort for science, technology, space and arts agencies. Wheeler lobbied for the cable industry from 1979 to 1984 when he was president of the National Cable Television Association, and then represented wireless phone companies as CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). Close behind in the speculation is Larry Strickling, who’s Administrator of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and helped to manage the Recovery Act’s broadband grants. Another possibility: Karen Kornbluh, who’s Ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Robert McDowell announced yesterday that he would be leaving the five-member commission and now it appears the other shoe is about to drop. Republican McDowell’s announcement was widely believed to be a precursor to an announcement that …
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that he’ll raise at the commission next month a proposal to “free up a substantial amount of spectrum for wifi to relieve wifi congestion and (increase) speeds.” He made the announcement at a friendly venue: the International CES confab in Las Vegas, where tech manufacturers are hungry for additional wireless spectrum for smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. “This is an exciting new initiative….This is really important,” Genachowski says. Although most details will be released later, the wireless bandwidth will come from unlicensed spectrum in the 5 Ghz band held by the Defense Department and other government agencies. “As in other areas, we’re convinced the spectrum can be shared,” he says. The wifi spectrum in that band will increase by 35%, he added. It’s the largest block of unlicensed spectrum opened for wifi since 2003.
The curious thing about Julius Genachowski‘s tenure as FCC chairman is that he’s been a virtuoso in dealing with broadband issues but tone deaf when it comes to traditional media. Case in point: Look at all the people he has infuriated with his attempt to make it easier for a company to own a TV station and major newspaper in the same city. (A proposal Genachowski circulated would put the burden on the FCC to show why it should block a cross-ownership arrangement in the 20 largest markets.) The effort is tailor-made for Rupert Murdoch. He’s kicking the tires at The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune — two cities where Fox also owns TV stations. That has foes of media consolidation seeing red. “We cannot live in a vibrant democracy unless people get divergent sources of information,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) said yesterday. “I intend to do everything I can to prevent this proposal from going forward.” That effort has momentum. This week Genachowski — under pressure from Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a potential swing vote on the five-member commission – said he’d accept more public comment on media ownership rules, pushing any decision into January at the earliest. Some of Genachowski’s most vigorous supporters tell me that they believe he blew it: If opponents effectively use the time to rally others to speak out against the plan, it’s probably toast.
UPDATE, 12:40 PM: NAB chief Gordon Smith warns that the FCC may be disappointed by the number of TV stations that will volunteer to give up their spectrum. “If there’s a stampede coming, we don’t hear any hooves,” he says. And the FCC probably won’t be interested in the rural stations that are most likely to be interested in a payout from an auction. The need for spectrum for wireless broadband “is an urban concern, not a rural concern. Oregon, where I’m from, will never run out of spectrum.” The NAB will cooperate with the FCC as it enters what Smith says is “uncharted territory.” But the trade group will try to ensure that stations aren’t coerced to participate in the auction. “That remains the focus of our concern.” Since the FCC action follows congressional legislation, the process likely will proceed no mater who wins the presidential election in November.
PREVIOUS, 11:30 AM: The plan has been a long time coming, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says it’s “a big deal” — although it could result in a bruising fight with broadcasters. The commission today unanimously endorsed a notice of proposed rulemaking that would enable broadcasters to voluntarily give up some of the airwave spectrum that they currently use, and share in the
UPDATED: FCC chairman Julius Genachowski waded into political season during his keynote today at the NAB Show, the annual content confab that hit full speed today with speeches from key broadcast players. Genachowski said that opposition to a proposal that would require stations to post online how much candidates spend on ads is “against technology, against transparency and against journalism.” The FCC will vote on the matter April 27. Such information has long been available to any citizen who takes the time to go down to a station and look through records in person. However, many NAB members worry that putting the hard numbers online could risk giving away individual station ad rates to local and regional rivals, especially in the highly competitive local news market. In his speech today, the FCC chief estimated that total political ad spending could be as high as $3B this election year.
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell fired an unexpected shot at Comcast today as the regulatory agency invited the public to comment on a recent deal by the company and other operators to sell airwave spectrum they control to Verizon. Noting that Comcast’s CFO recently told analysts that the cable company never planned to built a business for the airwaves, McDowell asked: “Were they purchased under false pretences?” Federal law bars companies from warehousing spectrum. The deal with Verizon must be approved by the FCC and Justice Department before it can close. ”Let’s be careful,” McDowell said at the 2012 International CES. “We want to be sure consumers have a disruptive and constructive marketplace….The commission has not done a good job of that in the past.” Another FCC Commissioner, Mignon Clyburn said that “we look at it on a case by case basis. …We’re not in isolation.”
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is prepared to junk federal rules that limit companies from owning TV and radio stations in the same market — and go half way in doing the same for TV stations and newspapers. He’s circulating a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would wipe out the TV-newspaper restriction in the 20 largest markets, trade magazine Broadcasting and Cable reports citing “a person familiar with the document.” But it would keep a test that could block a combo in smaller markets if it would result in less local news, less diversity of voices, or too much concentration of economic power. Genachowski’s proposal sounds a lot like the standard that former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, pushed through in 2008. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned those rules this past July, saying that Martin hadn’t given the public enough time to weigh in on them. Public interest advocates who want to preserve cross-ownership restrictions applauded the court decision. Newspaper and broadcast owners say that mergers are needed to preserve local newsrooms as their companies compete against a massive number of national news competitors on cable TV and the Internet. As part of the rulemaking process, the FCC will ask whether stations skirt the ownership limits