2009 Year in Review: FCC takes shape, then action

The news: The FCC's year was separated into two distinct halves. For the first half of the year, the five-member commission was dormant while commissioners awaited confirmation. In contrast, the second half of the year was marked by decisive action on a number of fronts directly affecting the wireless industry.

In early March, President Obama nominated Julius Genachowski, a technology advisor to his campaign and a former FCC staffer, to be the commission's new chairman. Due to procedural delays, he wasn't formally sworn in until June. And slowly, but surely, the rest of the commission took shape. Mignon Clyburn, a commissioner for the South Carolina Public Service Commission, and Meredith Attwell Baker, formerly the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, took their spots on the commission alongside commissioners Michael Copps and Robert McDowell. In the meantime, the FCC began debating a national broadband plan, which it must deliver to Congress by February.

As the commission took shape, it became clear it would not shy away from investigating contentious issues such as handset exclusivity deals. Indeed, the FCC voted to move ahead with wide-ranging probes into innovation, competition and truth-in-billing in wireless during its first full meeting.

Then, in a speech in late September, Genachowski proposed new net neutrality regulations--including ones that would apply to wireless networks--an effort that could deeply and profoundly affect the wireless ecosystem. Add that net neutrality action--which sparked multiple rounds of intense lobbying--to the agency's activity on Google Voice , new rules for tower siting and freeing up spectrum from broadcasters for mobile broadband, and it became crystal clear the FCC expects to be a force to be reckoned with.

Why it was significant: While the final rules are still out for debate, the FCC's actions on net neutrality could potentially have significant implications for numerous wireless industry stakeholders. Indeed, in a mark of how seriously the industry takes the new FCC, Genachowski (who was named FierceWireless' most powerful person in wireless for 2009) was invited to keynote at CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment show in San Diego. Though the FCC is currently juggling a range of high-profile wireless issues, the commission's eventual rulings could reshape the wireless policy landscape.

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