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Democrat Remains in Charge at FCC

The agency’s work, which continues no matter who’s in charge, piles up at year-end

After the election, we now realize the FCC will remain with a Democrat at the helm of its 3–2 setup.

But it may not be the same Democrat next year.

Chairman Julius Genachowski, in office since 2009, has been rumored to be leaving to go back to the private sector for more than a year.

That speculation has been intensifying since the election, though his office steadfastly denies rumors of his planned departure.

From my perch, covering the FCC since before I came to this publication during the Reed Hundt days, it’s clear that the chairman’s office gets the majority of the praise for whatever issue the commission is or isn’t working on, but also the most foot-traffic, and the brunt of the blame when there are controversial calls.

Staffers in the chairman’s office burn out fast. They’re usually ready to move on after a year and a half to two years, because of the long days and stress. Chairman themselves rarely stay longer than four years.

Under this chairman, the FCC revamped its website, though anecdotally, people I speak with usually say they prefer the still available older site, because it’s easier to use. The Genachowski FCC focused a lot on broadband, and presumably will continue to do so even with someone else in charge.

While the commissioners get the glory, the career civil servants really do the bulk of implementing policy at the agency even while the direction at the top may change. 

It will be interesting to see what will happen with the AM initiative next year, the commission’s expansion of its efforts to help owners of facilities on that challenged band. The perennial push to slightly relax media ownership rules is rumored to be happening soon.

Low-power FM advocates hope the agency will set final LPFM rules by year-end. To me, that seems dependent upon what happens with the challenges to the FM translator caps for applications pending since 2003. However at the Radio Show, agency officials seemed open to revisiting the caps. Stay tuned.