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Departing FCC chairman could have done more for consumers

March 22, 2013|By David Lazarus
  • FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski accomplished some things during his tenure, but also came up short.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski accomplished some things during his tenure,… ( )

Julius Genachowski, who will step down as head of the Federal Communications Commission within the next few weeks, leaves behind a mixed bag of accomplishments and disappointments.

He had made expansion of broadband Internet access one of his priorities. We moved forward on that front, but not far enough.

He also aimed to expand available wireless spectrum for smartphones and tablets and the like. That hasn't come very far either.

As for pushing for cable subscribers to pay only for the channels they want, rather than pay for fat bundles of channels they never watch, Genachowski was largely silent.

"While there were a few bright moments during the Genachowski years — including the agency’s opposition to the AT&T/T-Mobile merger and the push for more online transparency from broadcasters — the chairman squandered many more opportunities at critical junctures," said Craig Aaron, president of the advocacy group Free Press.

For his part, Genachowski told FCC staffers that the agency's efforts to refocus on broadband and wireless issues helped "improve the lives of all Americans."

"Today, America’s broadband economy is thriving, with record-setting private investment; unparalleled innovation in networks, devices and apps; and renewed U.S. leadership around the world," he said.

Not so much, actually. The United States still lags behind other developed nations in broadband speeds and penetration, and industry players largely call the shots as to who will receive high-speed Internet service and who won't.

Cable, phone and wireless companies spend millions of dollars annually lobbying lawmakers to give them what they want. They're among the deepest pockets in Washington.

What the FCC needs is a leader who is unafraid to challenge the established order, much as Elizabeth Warren stood up to banks and other financial powers.

Until then, the U.S. will continue making baby steps on the telecom front, instead of displaying the global leadership Genachowski boasted of.

And we'll all be the worse for it.

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