New FCC chairman sees broadband as priority

Julius Genachowski tells The Wall Street Journal in one of his first interviews as chairman that he would like to see affordable broadband service for all Americans.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read

The new head of the Federal Communications Commission wants affordable broadband access for all Americans, according to an article in Monday's Wall Street Journal.

Julius Genachowski sat down with the Journal for one of his first interviews since being sworn in as FCC chairman in late June and said that making affordable high-speed Internet available throughout the nation could be the "most successful driver of economic growth" in the nation.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski FCC

Exactly, how he plans to do this is something that broadband providers, such as AT&T, Verizon Communications, and Comcast, are watching carefully. The new chairman has not been vocal yet about how he stands on many issues that will affect these companies.

Some issues that are currently under discussion at the FCC include new rules that dictate how broadband providers manage their networks. Comcast got into trouble last year for slowing down its customers' peer-to-peer Bit Torrent traffic without providing sufficient notice. Consumer groups have been advocating for stronger rules or regulation that prohibit such types of changes.

There are also discussions before the FCC about rules requiring companies to lease network space to competitors. Broadband providers have argued that imposing strict, new rules could stifle innovation and investment.

The FCC has also been looking at exclusivity deals that wireless phone providers have been striking with mobile handset makers. These deals include AT&T's exclusive contract with Apple to offer the iPhone on its network, and Sprint Nextel's exclusive arrangement to carry the Palm Pre. Some lawmakers and consumer groups say it is unfair for carriers to strike these deals because it keeps cutting-edge products out of the hands of consumers who do not live in regions where these services are offered.

In an effort to fend off criticism, Verizon Wireless, the largest wireless carrier in the U.S., said last week it will allow smaller, regional carriers to get access to its exclusive phones after six months.

There are also a slew of other issues that the FCC must deal with soon, including whether to overhaul the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes phone service for rural Americans. Phone companies have complained for years that the system is broken. And others have urged the FCC to reallocate some of the funds collected for USF for subsidizing broadband services.

It will be interesting to see which side Genachowski will take on these issues. Generally speaking, many people perceived former chairman Kevin Martin as often siding with the phone companies, while having a more contentious relationship with cable companies. Specifically, the former chairman's campaign to force cable companies to offer a la carte pricing for cable TV put him squarely at odds with that industry.