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Senators Quiz FCC Nominees

Lawmakers drill down on how Genachowski would handle various issues including the FCC’s Web site

The inner workings of the Federal Communications Commission needs to be fixed, several members of Congress said Tuesday as they questioned President Obama’s nominee to chair the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, about how he intends to handle the broadband rollout, spectrum use and indecency enforcement.

During a nomination hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, there was much Democratic bashing of the “previous tenure,” meaning former Chairman Kevin Martin, although senators did not use his name.

Committee Chairman Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said the FCC has been criticized by the GAO, consumer groups and others for its lack of transparency. He said it’s “nearly impossible” to find information on the FCC Web site and asked Genachowski what he intended to do about that.

Genachowski agreed and said he too, had had trouble trying to navigate the site and that he wants to lead the agency in a direction that would help consumers navigate the complex communications world.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., told Genachowski bluntly, “You will lead an unhealthy agency. Serious questions were raised about stewardship of the FCC.” Genachowski will have to develop a national broadband plan and spectrum policies, looking at what spectrum lies fallow after the DTV transition and why.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chimed in on the spectrum use, saying he hopes Genachowski intends to look at the way the country’s spectrum is managed and allocated efficiently.

Switching to station issues, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., expressed “concern” about LPFMs and brought up the pending decision the agency must make about whether a translator or an LPFM gets priority when both are vying for the same frequency. Currently they are both licensed as secondary services so whoever files first would have an edge; LPFMs have pressed the FCC for priority. If the reverse happens, “if translators get the priorities, than it’s not meaningful to have an LPFM,” said Cantwell.

Genachowski did not signal what the commission would do other than to say diversity of ownership is important to him: “There are creative ways to tackle these issues,” he said.

Much of the questioning centered on Genachowski, though some were lobbed at Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell also. He said the commission “could serve the public by reducing the backlog of more than 1.2 million broadcast indecency complaints — some of which are older than my children.”

A spokesman for the committee said though there’s no agreement yet on both nominations, Sen. Rockefeller intends to get them packaged up and moved as soon as possible.

Reporters tried to talk to Genachowski after the hearing, but he declined to comment.