WASHINGTON - The new head of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, a Harvard Law School classmate of President Obama's, had something to tell the telecom industry in an interview Tuesday: "We're going to be boring."
That would be in stark contrast to his predecessor, Kevin Martin, who grabbed headlines by blasting Comcast Corp. and the other cable TV companies for bills that were rising at twice the rate of inflation and for indecent entertainment on prime time.
Genachowski (Jen-a-KOW-ski), 46, a former media executive who was confirmed as chairman of the five-commissioner FCC in late June, would not comment directly on the Martin-Comcast relationship in an interview at his eighth-floor office at FCC headquarters. But he said he intended to make changes at the FCC.
"There's no question in my mind that the agency needs to be revitalized and retooled," he said.
"I am making it clear to everyone I talk to that the country expects the FCC to be an expert agency that's focused on facts, focused on data, and that takes a hard and honest approach," he added.
Martin, a Bush appointee who resigned in January, collected enough votes on the commission to limit Comcast to 30 percent of the nation's cable market, saying the Philadelphia company's potential reach into 50 million homes demonstrated excessive market power.
Comcast appealed to have the new regulation overturned by the federal courts. The case could be decided any day.
This was a hate-hate relationship between the regulator and the regulated, and both Martin and Comcast got bruised.
By late 2008, Martin had come under harsh criticism from Democrats for what they said was politicizing the agency, which regulates phone, broadcast, radio, and cable firms. And Comcast was losing cable TV customers because of competitive threats from Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc.
Genachowski's approach is to make the agency more accessible. The FCC in August is holding two dozen open-to-the-public workshops on broadband - high-speed Internet - policy. Genachowski called them "unparalleled in the FCC history" for openness.
"We're experimenting with mechanisms to make the FCC as participatory as possible," said Genachowski, a trim and engaging man with black hair.
A chief criticism of the agency is that it is beholden to lobbyists. Comcast boosted its lobbying from less than $1 million to more than $10 million this decade, in part to thwart Martin, who was chairman during Bush's second term.
Genachowski said his objectives at the FCC were to foster telecommunications competition, help consumers, and encourage investment in the industry.
He would not discuss cable rates or cable-regulation issues. His current priority is developing a national broadband policy. He said he believed the Internet had potential as an "enduring engine" for job growth and innovation.
The Obama $787 billion economic-stimulus plan includes about $7 billion to deploy the Internet to rural parts of the nation that do not have it yet, and to boost Internet use in cities and suburbs. It is estimated that 8 percent to 10 percent of the nation's hinterland households do not have access to high-speed Internet service. The Obama administration has not set a goal for broadband adoption.
Larry Irving, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group, said he considered Genachowski a good choice for the FCC. "I think you'll see a lot of oversight, but not a lot of regulation," he said.
Executives at record-label music companies, newspapers, and magazines say the Internet has destroyed conventional business models. Those at cable TV companies now fear online video could erode their subscription cable TV business.
Genachowski, who has been an investor in numerous Internet start-up companies, said: "I'm convinced that, on balance, the net effect of the Internet on the U.S. economy has been dramatically positive."