Julius Genachowski: Congratulations! If You're Going To Be A Bear, Be A Kodiak! (Pt. 2 of 2)
OK, in the previous post, I said I had an idea of some simple steps, and a simple agenda that could put FCC Chair Nominee Julius Genachowski on the path to being a great FCC Chairman. First, though, I noted that you have to go in knowing what you want to get out, and to resist the temptations to "go big or go home" on some issue that just arrives on your doorstep. In other words, minimize distractions and stay focused. So, if you want to be a Kodiak, here's the whole game plan: make your imprint on the agency with your management style and procedures, focus on a couple really hard things (this will also keep the dilettantes out of your hair), and either ignore the noise, or let it take care of itself.
Agency Reform: As a preliminary matter, devote some time to giving serious attention to the issue of FCC procedural reform. While this is not something the Chairman can unilaterally "do", per se (any organizational changes to the Commission must be approved by Congress), a lot of people--including the three sitting Commissioners--believe that you will probably get some latitude to make "procedural" changes at the Commission. A couple suggestions that would make a big difference: consider asking Congress to give the Commissioners longer terms, but term-limit them (no successive terms); this may cut down on politically-induced paralysis and take away the incentive to constantly try to curry political favor by never making a decision (which might make some people mad).
Another suggestion: appoint Bureau Chiefs who don't come from the industries they regulate; this will reduce, but not eliminate, the abject capture characterized by some Bureaus. Also, consider making the Commission's web site more transparent, and easier to use--more like Change.gov. For example, along with the matters on circulation, which Chairman Martin made public, the public would probably benefit from knowing which Commissioners have voted, and which have not yet acted.
Finally, some believe that reforming the way USF money is distributed is something that would benefit the public. The USAC, the argument goes, has become captured by the subsidy-seekers with which they deal most frequently. Moreover, there is a legitimate argument that by making Schools and Libraries fund distribution grant based (as it is today), the money goes to the best grant writers and not the schools most in need of public funds.
Maybe now is the right time to take a look at everything pertaining to USF. Given the broadband grants in the stimulus package, and the FCC's own findings that the High Cost Fund is subject to rampant waste, fraud, and abuse, it is critical that the FCC have the authority to monitor and audit grant distributions by the NTIA, and the RUS, in order to prevent waste and reform the USF system.
In short, make some procedural changes, and the rest of your job will be easier--but not easy.
The Agenda (finally--at least for wireline telecom): adopt a short, ambitious, and clearly-defined agenda. On this matter, what you do on issues that have been ignored for too long will make a much bigger difference than what you do do on "the next big thing." Here is a short list of issues that are easy to identify, but have proven impossible to solve:
1) Decide whether VoIP is an "information service" or a "telecommunications service." Your two predecessors wouldn't touch this question with a 10 foot pole. As a result, litigation has blossomed. Your decision has real consequences, and any decision would prevent some companies from having their cake and eating it too. Nonetheless, this is only a prerequisite--the "base camp" if you will--to conquering Everest.
2) USF and Intercarrier Compensation Reform: To his credit, Chairman Martin at least made an attempt--too little, too late, but at least an attempt to tackle this problem. His two predecessors didn't touch this issue (CALLS was more of a rubber stamp on an industry proposal, so it doesn't count as "regulation"). Not since Chairman Hundt has anyone tried to "solve" this problem. This is the big problem, the big regulatory uncertainty that nobody really wants to talk about. The problem grows daily, resulting in inefficient consumer prices, delayed innovation, and diverted investment. Unfortunately, it's not sexy, Business Week won't do one of their typically-fawning articles if and when you do get something done. Neither will the consumer groups, nor the "blogosphere" applaud you; most probably, they won't even understand the implications. No, the importance of your summit won't be appreciated, and it is almost certain that you will be roundly criticized. Yet, the job can't be done by just anyone--it demands intelligence, political skill, and political courage.
This agenda, for telecom--not media, or wireless--is ambitious, yet focused. And, if you have time after solving these issues, then you can figure out the future of the Internet and the next big thing in wireless ;-)
To sum up, you have an awesome opportunity Mr. Genachowski. I encourage you to try to climb Everest, by taking on the hard decisions that have long been neglected and are in desparate need of resolution for progress to occur. Don't be afraid. You can't "mess up" these issues, because anything would be progress, and, if you get even a little lucky, you could end up "climbing Everest" and making a contribution that is as big as your potential. If you do go for it, there won't be a big reward, but you also will not have squandered an opportunity. Besides, what's the worst that could happen? You do such a bad job that everyone knows who you are, and you get your own Bud Light "Real Men of Genius" ad? Worse things have happened. Here's to you, Mr. Chairman-Select-of the-FCC-Guy--Yes You Can!