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Obama eyes net neut man for FCC post

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US President-elect Barack Obama will nominate his campaign's technology adviser, Julius Genachowski, to serve as the next head of the Federal Communications Commission. At least, that's the word from Democratic officials whispering in the ears of big-name news sources.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and others, Genachowski is Obama's top choice for the FCC chair, but the nomination has yet to be finalized.

Genachowski was a classmate of Obama's at Harvard Law School in the late 1980s and early 90s. And from 1994 to 1997, during the Clinton administration, he was chief counsel for the FCC under chairman Reed Hundt.

On the road to White House, Genachowski was as a top Obama fundraiser, pulling in more than $500,000 in donations, as well as chief technology adviser. Before joining the campaign, the 46-year-old founded two venture capital firms - Rock Creek Ventures and LaunchBox Digital - and for several years he worked for Barry Diller at the search and media conglomerate IAC/InterActive Corp.

If you listen closely, you can hear the cheers coming from the Google Chocolate Factory. Genachowski helped pen the Barack Obama Technology and Innovation Plan (PDF warning), which begins by explaining that the Illinois senator is intent on ensuring "the Full and Free Exchange of Information through an Open Internet and Diverse Media Outlets." That's right, Genachowski and Obama believe in net neutrality.

"Users must be free to access content, to use applications, and to attach personal devices. They have a right to receive accurate and honest information about service plans. But these guarantees are not enough to prevent network providers from discriminating in ways that limit the freedom of expression on the Internet," the plan reads.

"Because most Americans only have a choice of only one or two broadband carriers, carriers are tempted to impose a toll charge on content and services, discriminating against websites that are unwilling to pay for equal treatment. This could create a two-tier Internet in which websites with the best relationships with network providers can get the fastest access to consumers, while all competing websites remain in a slower lane.

"Such a result would threaten innovation, the open tradition and architecture of the Internet, and competition among content and backbone providers. It would also threaten the equality of speech through which the Internet has begun to transform American political and cultural discourse. Barack Obama supports the basic principle that network providers should not be allowed to charge fees to privilege the content or applications of some web sites and Internet applications over others."

Current FCC chairman Kevin Martin - a Bush appointee - has spent years playing both sides of the net neutrality debate. Recently, for example, he led an FCC vote that censured Comcast for surreptitiously throttling BitTorrent traffic - without imposing a fine.

If appointed FCC chair, Julius Genachowski may also oversee America's final leap to digital TV. The digital deadline is currently February 17, but Obama's transition team has asked Congress to push that date back. On January 5, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced it had already spent the $1.34bn set aside to provide citizens with coupons for digital converters. About 18 million people are still on the waiting list for these subsidies, which are mandated by law. ®

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