Many eyes in the tech world are now fixed on Julius Genachowski, President Obama’s pick for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman. If confirmed, Genachowski will face a number of important challenges. Indeed, according to Network World columnist Johna Till Johnson, the decisions that Genachowski will make over the next few years could decide the very “fate of the Internet.”

Genachowski has worked as Chief Counsel to former FCC chairman Reed Hundt and has served on the board of directors for various Internet companies. During the campaign, Genachowski worked as Obama’s technology advisor. The two have known each other ever since they were on the Harvard Law Review together at Harvard Law School. However, Genachowski’s background is primarily legal, not technical, and his lack of engineering experience has led some to question how well he will handle the post of FCC chairman.

The first major challenge Genachowski will face, of course, will be the upcoming transition from analog to digital television that is due to officially take place on February 17. President Obama has said that Congress should postpone the switch date to give consumers more time to adjust, but outgoing FCC chairman Kevin Martin has adamantly opposed any such delay. Regardless of when it does finally happen, the digital switch will occupy most of the first few months of Genachowski’s tenure.

The FCC will then have to confront the thorny issue of Net Neutrality. Simply put, Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be permitted to block Internet traffic from their competitors in order to speed up their own. All Internet traffic is thus treated equally. However, many ISPs have opposed the policy on the grounds that it takes away incentive for them to upgrade their networks. In August 2008, as our blog reported at the time, the FCC determined for the first time ever that a company was in violation of its Net Neutrality policy.

Supporters of Net Neutrality have hailed Genachowski’s nomination, as they believe he will continue to uphold the doctrine. It is also widely believed that Genachowski was critical in convincing Obama to publicly endorse Net Neutrality during the campaign.

Many also hope that Genachowski will restore the FCC’s role as a leader in advancing technology policy. Many complained that the FCC’s decision-making process had become dysfunctional and somewhat haphazard under the outgoing chairman’s tenure.

Whether or not Genachowski will be up to the challenges he will confront in the years ahead remains to be seen, but the tech world will certainly be watching him closely from now on.

--Chad Burchard

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