FCC Chairman Had Trouble Pleasing Interest Groups, Industry

Julius Genachowski announced on Friday that he will step down as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He began his tenure with an ambitious National Broadband Plan and made broadband access for all Americans his most frequent talking point. But many say his actual accomplishments fall short of his stated goals.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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.

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