Julius Genachowski, chairman, FCC
What makes him powerful: Julius Genachowski was tapped by then-President-elect Obama in January to head the Federal Communications Commission, but due to procedural delays he wasn't formally sworn in until the end of June. All of that waiting may have contributed to the flurry of activity he has initiated since taking office. In the past few months the FCC has stolen the spotlight seemingly dozens of times on issues spanning the gamut of the wireless industry. In addition to crafting a comprehensive national broadband plan, the commission also has opened investigations into exclusive handset deals, billing, Google Voice, Apple's App Store and industry competition in general. And perhaps most notably, the agency recently voted to move forward with a rule making on net neutrality, and if those stipulations become law the action could dramatically and permanently reshape the wireless industry's competitive and technological landscape.
A former Harvard Law classmate of Obama's, and a technology adviser during the presidential campaign, Genachowski and Obama appear alike in temperament in many respects. Genachowski is analytical, pragmatic, deliberate in his decisions and, at least so far, has tried to build consensus among his Republican colleagues.
Yet his stated desire to make policy decisions based upon a solid, analytical framework should not be confused with an aversion to shake up the status quo and move forward on far-reaching proposals like net neutrality.
Just as important as the actions Genachowski has taken is the atmosphere he has created within the industry, essentially putting carriers, handset makers and other players on notice that things have changed, that this FCC will probe the industry when it feels it is necessary to do so. That change in tone has already produced some tangible results.
Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless carrier by subscribers, made some concessions to smaller carriers shortly after Genachowski was sworn in, on both handset exclusivity and local roaming. Another sign of how seriously the industry takes his clout is that Genachowski was invited to speak at the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment show in San Diego, a little more than two weeks after he proposed the new net neutrality rules.
In his CTIA speech, Genachowski offered an olive branch to the industry by promising to open up more licensed spectrum and to smooth the process of tower siting. However, he stood firm on net neutrality, warning that "we may not always agree." Indeed, AT&T Mobility President and CEO Ralph de la Vega took the CTIA stage right after Genachowski and used his time in the spotlight to essentially argue against net neutrality rules for wireless.
Whatever the result, it's clear that Genachowski is more than willing to use the full power of his station and potentially reshape much of the wireless industry. --Phil