Senate Confirms Genachowski as FCC Chairman; McDowell Confirmed for Second Term
Just nine day after Julius Genachowski -- the man President Barack Obama picked to head the Federal Communications Commission -- appeared before the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, the Senate confirmed his nomination as FCC Chairman.
On June 25, both Genachowski and current FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell were confirmed by the Senate. Obama nominated Genachowski to lead the Commission on March 3, 2009. As a sitting commissioner, McDowell's nomination did not have to go through either a background check or financial vetting, two things that can slow down the confirmation process of a new nominee; Obama renominated McDowell on June 2. Both nominees received bipartisan support from the Senate committee before their names were moved to the full Senate for confirmation: Genachowski received a 24-1 vote from the committee, while McDowell received unanimous support. Genachowski is a Democratic nominee, while McDowell is a Republican. Only three Commissioners at a time may be members of the same political party.
At around 7:25 PM (EDT), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) read out only the numbers of the nominations corresponding to their numbers on the day's calendar. Genachowski was calendar number 251, McDowell was 252. The process took only seconds and followers would have had to know their calendar number on the day's agenda to know they had been confirmed. Reid said that it was "too bad" that he could not give individual recognition to the nominees beyond simply reading their names, saying they were people who would "change lives."
According to Senate insiders, there were senators who reportedly had some remaining issues over answers the nominees had provided to written questions submitted after their confirmation hearing; a single senator can put a hold on a nominee and prevent a vote. Reid had been working since last week to get those holds lifted and the President's FCC nominees in place as quickly as possible, said a Reid spokesperson: "As with all of the President's nominees, it is important that we confirm [Genachowski's] nomination as soon as possible so that he has a full team to address the many issues confronting the nation."
At Genachowski's confirmation hearing, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), the Chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told the nominee that he wants "an FCC that is transparent, that inspires confidence and that makes our digital infrastructure a model for the world. Tragically, this has not been the case for some time. Let me be very clear about the challenge before you. Fix this agency or we will fix it for you."
First and foremost, Rockefeller stressed that the FCC should be consumer-oriented in its policy decisions. "Too often, FCC Commissioners have focused on making sure that the policies they advocate serve the needs of the companies they regulate and their bottom lines," Rockefeller said. "Time and again, the FCC has shortchanged consumers and the public interest. Show us that the FCC can put consumers first and give them confidence that when they interact with the agency they will get a fair response."
The Senator noted that during former Chairman Kevin J. Martin's tenure, the FCC was under congressional investigation for mismanagement and the focus of criticism by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for its lack of transparency and potential misuse of data. Late last year, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce -- the congressional committee that oversees the FCC -- released its majority staff report "on the bipartisan investigation of the FCC's regulatory processes and management practices." The report -- Deception and Distrust: The Federal Communications Commission under Chairman Kevin J. Martin -- stated that the investigation was prompted "by allegations to the effect that [FCC] Chairman Kevin J. Martin has abused FCC procedures by manipulating or suppressing reports, data and information."
Genachowski said that he shares Rockefeller's vision: "As communications devices and networks become ever more essential to the daily lives of every American, and as the media landscape changes dramatically, the need has never been greater for an FCC that sees the world from the perspectives of consumers and family."
"We hope and expect that Chairman Genachowski will maintain the momentum of Acting Chairman Copps, who has taken the first steps to get the FCC back on track," said ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ, echoing Senator Rockefeller's thoughts.
In his opening statement, Genachowski assured the Committee that his career "inside and outside government has convinced [him] that the FCC can be a model for excellence in government, fighting for consumers and families, fostering investment and innovation, through open, fair, and data-driven processes -- a 21st century agency for the information age. The FCC should consult closely with Congress, and work effectively and efficiently for the American people."
Genachowski said he plans to focus on wireless services and broadband technology to help spur job growth while also expanding access to all Americans: "I'm energized by what is happening around the country in mobile. We're seeing incredible innovation. I believe we have an opportunity for America to lead the world in mobile."
The Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has 25 members, 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans. Of the 11 Republican members, only two -- Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Mike Johanns of Nebraska -- attended the confirmation hearings. Senator Johanns made an opening comment praising Genachowski: "If you aren't qualified, then I don't know who is."
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) praised Genachowski for having the "perfect background" to run the FCC. He then added, "It seems to me that you will lead a rather unhealthy agency. We've been through a period of substantial secrecy."
In his testimony before the Senate committee, McDowell said the Commission should focus on attracting capital investment to the communications sector, saying that the wireless sector is becoming increasingly important. "I will work to support policies that will promote vigorous growth in the broadband markets to ensure that all Americans have access to the promise of high-speed Internet services, and that the Internet remains robust, open and safe," he told the Committee.
At the hearing, McDowell reiterated statements from large telecommunications companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, that government stimulus money should first go to areas with no Internet access, rather than those with slow linkups and few choices among providers: "I would hope our focus would first be on unserved America."
As a Commissioner, McDowell is known for a generally free-market approach to regulation. He also is a strict adherent to laws governing the communications industry, which in the past caused him to butt heads with former FCC Chairman Martin. McDowell recused himself from AT&T's takeover of BellSouth Corp, despite Martin's request that McDowell vote on the merger that deadlocked the commission. The FCC eventually approved the deal after AT&T agreed to several conditions. -- Some information from The Washington Post, Broadcasting & Cable and The Wall Street Journal