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CES: The FCC chairman, still on guard

January 8, 2010 |  1:38 pm

In a Q&A at the Consumer Electronics Show, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski reaffirmed his commitment to adopting Net neutrality rules and transforming the FCC into a data-driven "21st century agency." But as usual, he was loath to take clear positions on policy disputes or make detailed statements about where the commission was going. Or make news.

His most revealing comment was a joke. When Consumer Electronics Assn. CEO Gary Shapiro brought up the issue of the national broadband plan -- a road map Congress ordered the FCC to draw up for achieving universal broadband -- and asked him to "show a little leg," Genachowski replied, "Sure, but not here." And so it went, as Genachowski proceeded to discuss the (obvious) value of broadband and the (clear) challenges in extending it throughout the country.

He did make one definitive statement: When asked if the Fairness Doctrine was dead, he said, flatly, "The Fairness Doctrine is dead." But then, he's said that before.

It may be overreaching to tease anything concrete out of Genachowski's remarks, but I will note that he pushed back against Shapiro's argument that the Internet eliminated the need for ownership restrictions in other media. Shapiro noted that with the Internet, there is no more scarcity of publishing or broadcasting resources. That undermines one of the foundations underlying federal regulation. Genachowski replied that broadband is indeed changing the world, but it's impossible to tell exactly how. The FCC is looking at what it can do in the new digital world to enable vibrant competition and "a free, full flow of information," he said, while also trying to satisfy the goals that led to enactment of the Children's Television Act. 

He then admitted that he didn't really answer Shapiro's question about scarcity because, he said, he didn't know what the answer was.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him on Twitter: @jcahealey


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