Exit Julius Genachowski

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will announce his intent to leave the FCC today.  Well, it is the season of the Exodus, and I expect that perhaps Genachowski will be able to say with particular vigor at his seder “last year we were slaves, this year we are free.”

I will hopefully get something more up later, as I am in the midst of my own Passover preparations and then embarking immediately thereafter on the next leg of my “What Do You Have Say That’s So Important?” Tour. So I will limit myself at the moment to simply this. It is extremely easy to let the disappointment and bitterness over the high hopes I (and others) had back when Genachowski started in 2009 color his sins (whether of commission or omission) blacker than they should be. By the same token, it is easy to allow the lowered expectations we all had after 2010 to make his accomplishments seem better than they where.

For now, what is far more important than any attempt to summarize Genachowski’s putative legacy in a few paragraphs is determining who will succeed him. Certainly I agree with those who have said we want to see someone who will be a champion of the public interest, someone willing to stand up to a hostile Republican-controlled House and powerful incumbents. But I will add one particular plea to the President: Send us no scholar. Send us no visionary to lead us into the promised land of gigabit broadband, nor an ideologue wedded to a philosophy. Send us no seekers of grand bargains or painful compromises. Instead, send us someone who likes to get their hands dirty.

Even more so than in 2009, we stand at a peculiar juncture in the evolution of our national communications infrastructure. After years of anticipating convergence, it is upon us. Every aspect of our communications infrastructure — wireless, wireline, broadcasting, cable — is undergoing dramatic upheaval. There are at once tremendous opportunities for a rebirth of independent media and renewed competition, or a collapse into consolidation and control. We are at a delicate point in what Tim Wu in his 2010 book The Master Switch called “The Cycle,” the point where potentially open and disruptive communications technology reach a new equilibrium and begin to become closed and tame, serving a new elite as the previous structure served the old. Stopping that Cycle takes more than just vision (though vision is certainly required). It takes someone who loves the details with wonkish delight, but who can step back enough from them to stay focused on the bigger picture. Someone with a guiding philosophy that inform decisionmaking rather than an ideology that governs decisionmaking. Someone willing to make the hard call and piss people off, but mindful that the person who always does what he or she thinks is right regardless of cost eventually runs up a heck of a tab. Someone who captures the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 7:16-17: “Do not be too righteous, nor too wise — wherefore would you destroy yourself? Be not too wicked, nor too foolish — wherefore would you die before your time?”

In 2009 we wanted hope and change, in 2013 we need grit and courage.

Stay tuned . . . .

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