FCC Chairman appointee Julius Genachowski and current commissioner Robert McDowell sailed through their confirmation hearings yesterday afternoon before the Senate Commerce Committee and reportedly could be confirmed quickly to begin new terms as members of the federal communications agency.
Genachowski and McDowell both were questioned about their positions regarding longstanding issues such as media ownership, broadband deployment and the universal service fund. However, none of the questions were very combative, as the senators generally heaped plaudits on both men, such as the comment made by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., to Genachowski, a Democrat.
"If you're not qualified for this, I don't know who would be," Johanns said.
Indeed, senators from both sides of the aisle praised Genachowski's background, beginning with his first job as an aide to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to his work at theand in the private sector. During the hearing, Schumer noted Genachowski's "passion for consumer rights," noting that Genachowski was a driving force behind a law that requires credit-card interest rates to be more clearly advertised.
On the topic of public-safety communications, Genachowski said "none of us should be satisfied with where we are" and expressed a desire to pursue a plans to enable broadband connectivity to the first-responder community.
"I don't think we can move too quickly in tackling that," he said.
If confirmed, Genachowski — a law-school friend of President Barack Obama — would be the FCC's first permanent chairman since Republican Kevin Martin resigned when the new administration took office in January. Martin's tenure was marked by criticism that the FCC lacked transparency in its operations.
Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., noted that some critics believe the FCC has been "captured by industry" and that Congress expects Genachowski to make sure that perception is changed.
"Fix the agency and prove to us that the FCC is not battered beyond repair, or we will fix it for you," Rockefeller said.
Since Martin's resignation, Michael Copps has served as the FCC's acting chairman. After Genachowski's expected confirmation, Copps will return to his role as a Democratic commissioner in the agency, with Obama nominee Mignon Clyburn — a regulator from South Carolina and daughter of House Majority Whip James Clyburn — filling the other Democratic seat, as current Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein becomes administrator of the Rural Utilities Service (RUS).
Republican leadership recently chose McDowell to remain in one FCC seat and former(NTIA) official Meredith Atwell Baker to fill the other slot.