High marks for FCC appointee

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The Obama administration's likely FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, won't have much time to get settled, with issues like the digital transition looming on the horizon.

Industry execs Tuesday lauded Genachowski's experience — including a stint at Barry Diller's IAC and a previous stay with the FCC — and noted his close relationship with President-elect Barack Obama from their days at Harvard Law School.

"I don't think we have had an FCC chairman who is this close to the president for a while," said one Washington rep of a major media company. "It sends a strong signal to our industry that they care about us."

Genachowski, whose appointment must be confirmed by the Senate, is likely to bring a more collaborative approach and digital media savvy to a commission often maligned in recent years amid current FCC chair Kevin Martin's battles with Hollywood.

"He (would be) the first guy in this position who really understands new media. It's exactly what the FCC needs right now," said former AOL CEO Jon Miller, who overlapped with Genachowski at IAC and has since worked with him on early-stage media companies. "He listens well, processes and synthesizes information tremendously and then makes practical decisions."

The ante for what would already be a high-profile appointment at the top of the FCC was upped last week when the Obama transition team asked Congress to delay the Feb. 17 digital TV transition deadline.

"(Genachowski) should be able to hit the ground running," said Andrew Lipman, a media and telecom lawyer and partner at Washington-based Bingham McCutchen. "It's going to take up the predominant amount of the commission's attention over the next several months, whether or not the deadline is extended."

Only Congress can change the date, which was settled upon in 2005, but the FCC will deal with the transition and the aftermath.

Genachowski's positions are relatively clear. Wild cards could be his stance on media-ownership rule changes and how far his FCC would take the issue of broadcast indecency.

"As a devoted dad, he will always take the interests of parents and kids into consideration when important decisions are made at the FCC," Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer said. However, he said he expects Genachowski to avoid ideological fervor. (partialdiff)
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