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FCC pick Genachowski is longtime Obama friend, adviser

By Carol Eisenberg

March 4, 2009 at 6:04pm

After weeks of speculation, President Obama has officially named Harvard bud and high-tech adviser Julius Genachowski to head the Federal Communications Commission.

It’s Genachowski’s second tour - he was a top aide at the FCC during the Clinton administration - and he’s being lauded by all sides, at least to start.

Genachowski’s priorities include the expansion of broadband service to underserved and rural areas, which got a big boost from the president’s recent economic stimulus package. He is also an advocate of an open Internet, diversity in media ownership and a nationwide wireless system for emergency workers.

“Julius essentially drafted Mr. Obama’s technology and innovation plan,” Gigi Sohn, who runs the advocacy group Public Knowledge told NPR.

“He also understands that broadband can solve energy problems and environment problems and health care problems,” Sohn said. ” … he sees it as part of a larger ecosystem of social economic issues that Americans really care about.”

The choice is getting raves from many in the business community who see the nominee’s private-sector experience as a big plus. Genachowski was a top executive at Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp., a media conglomerate with diverse Internet holdings. More recently, he co-founded Rock Creek Ventures, an investment and advisory firm for digital media companies, and co-founded the country’s first commercial “green” bank.

He “combines the policy savvy and real-world experience that will be necessary to confront both the challenges and opportunities presented at a time of incredible change sweeping the media, communications and technology marketplace,” said Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

The child of Eastern European Jews who fled the Holocaust, Genachowski grew up in Great Neck, a wealthy Long Island enclave. After receiving a history degree from Columbia University, he attended Harvard Law School, where he befriended Barack Obama during the countless hours the two spent as editors on the Law Review, taking breaks to play games of pick-up basketball.

A law clerk to Abner J. Mikva, then a federal judge from Chicago (he got the job after Obama turned it down), Genachowski also clerked for Justice David H. Souter and the late William Brennan Jr. of the U.S. Supreme Court. Before leaving to go into business, he worked as General Counsel of the Federal Communications Commission under then-Chairman Reed Hundt during the Clinton administration.

Genachowski is married to Rachel Goslins, a copyright-lawyer-turned documentary filmmaker, whose most recent film, Bama Girl, depicts the 2005 homecoming queen contest at the University of Alabama, in which a black underdog candidate took on the white sorority machine. The couple has three children.

Genachowski is expected to sail through the Senate confirmation process which is likely to focus on the issues currently bedeviling the FCC, among them, the nationwide conversion to digital television signals and allegations of corruption inside the agency.

“I think the new chairman needs to come in with a broom and take out some of these people who have played favorites and given favors to favorite lobbyists and get this business of the FCC back to what’s best for the people,” Mark Fowler, who led the agency under President Reagan, told NPR.

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