18. Julius Genachowski, Chairman, FCC - Most Powerful People in Wireless

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Julius Genachowski, Chairman, FCCWhat makes him powerful: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has been beating the drum about the importance of wireless spectrum almost since his first days in office. Over the past year he jumped back Powerful People list through his decisions and leadership on how spectrum should be allocated, via both deals and regulatory action. 

When it came to deals, Genachowski was aggressive in pushing back against those that he felt were not in consumers' best interest, like AT&T's (NYSE:T) bid for T-Mobile USA while advocating for approval of others, like Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) $3.9 billion purchase of 20 MHz of nationwide AWS spectrum from a group of cable companies. The Verizon cable deal likely got Genachowski's nod because of Verizon's AWS spectrum swap with T-Mobile and its commitment to data roaming.  

One of the thorniest thickets Genachowski has had to navigate this year was the FCC's decision in February to essentially shut down LightSquared's plans to launch a wholesale LTE network. Based on testing by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the FCC said it would not allow LightSquared to build its planned LTE network. FCC officials have taken heat from congressional Republicans over the commission's decision to grant LightSquared conditional approval to launch its network in the first place.

Despite that mess, Genachowski has pushed ahead with proposals both big and small aimed at improving the wireless market. The most expansive, impressive and complicated of these was the decision to start setting rules for incentive auctions of broadcast TV spectrum, a process many years in the making. The FCC will also begin a review of its rules for how much spectrum a carrier should be able to hold.  Genachowski also led the FCC's $300 million Mobility Fund auction to expand mobile broadband coverage to rural and unserved areas of the country and changes to the 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum band that will allow AT&T to use the spectrum for LTE.

Genachowski has also led a number of smaller but still important initiatives, including a reform of the FCC's Lifeline phone subsidy program and to stamp out waste and fraud, working with carrier to create a nationwide database of stolen smartphones in an effort to battle smartphone theft and pushing for an inquiry into whether the FCC's cell phone radiation emission standards need to be changed.

While have some have argued that the idea of the "spectrum crunch" has been exaggerated, Genachowski recently said the agency is on track to exceed its goal of freeing up 300 MHz of spectrum for wireless use by 2015, a key element of the FCC's national broadband plan. A major wild card in that calculus is how much spectrum the FCC will reclaim from broadcasters, which could dent or improve Genachowski's legacy as chairman. This year though Genachowski has taken steps to ensure he has one.--Phil

Special Report: Top 25 Most Powerful People in U.S. Wireless 2012