One year at the FCC: Where things stand

Nearly a year ago, on Aug. 27, 2009, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called to order his first meeting as the head of the new five-member panel. Inside the FCC's low-slung but expansive meeting room in Southwest Washington, D.C., the commission voted to open a series of inquiries into the wireless industry.

Since then, the FCC has initiated scores of proceedings--according to the FCC's own comments database, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau has started 28 during the past year, and the agency's other bureaus have issued dozens more. Earlier this year the FCC also had to produce--as mandated by law--a national broadband plan, which was a massive, months-long undertaking.

Amid all of this action though, there is a central question: How has this FCC done so far? The picture that emerges from interviews with industry insiders, telecommunications lawyers, public interest representatives and analysts is a decidedly nuanced one.

To evaluate the agency's progress so far, FierceWireless looked at six key issues Genachowski's FCC has addressed during the past year:

Handset exclusivity
TV white spaces
D Block
Increasing wireless spectrum
Net neutrality

(There are more than these six issues on the table, of course. The FCC also has questioned carriers about their early-termination fee policies, opened an inquiry into wireless "bill shock," and issued a mobile competition report, among other items.) 

The commission's defenders note that the FCC has taken on a lot of action, particularly on the wireless front, and that it always takes longer to get things done at a federal agency than some would like. Critics argue the FCC has not moved decisively enough on certain issues, particularly net neutrality and the D Block.  

"It's very difficult as a chairman to make progress faster than you're able to sort through the facts and the law and the policy and politics on various issues," said Michele Farquhar, a partner at the Washington law firm Hogan & Hartson, who has presented clients before the FCC. "It's hard to judge any administration within a one-year timeframe. They've have taken on more dockets than any other FCC in the history of time."

Others acknowledged the agency's full plate, but expressed frustration nonetheless. "I think it's a very mixed bag," said Chris Riley, policy counsel of public interest group Free Press, summing up his view of the commission's first year. "I think there are a lot of ways in which the right things have been done. I think there are a lot of ways in which the right things have been started. And I think there are a lot of ways in which the right things have been left by the wayside."