Obama to name Julius Genachowski as FCC leader

President-elect Barack Obama is expected to nominate his top technology adviser, Julius Genachowski, to head the Federal Communications Commission, a source close to the Obama transition team said Tuesday.

The source declined to be quoted by name because the FCC nominee hasn't yet been formally announced.

Genachowski, 46, was the architect of the campaign's hugely successful drive to use the Internet to raise funding for the primary and general election campaign.

A former Harvard classmate of Obama, Genachowski is a lawyer by training. He has long ties to Silicon Valley and is the co-founder of LaunchBox Digital, a Washington, D.C.-based venture capital firm. He worked at the FCC under Reed Hundt, an FCC chairman during the Clinton years.

Hundt says Genachowski would bring a valuable perspective to the USA's top regulatory job.

"Assuming he's nominated, Julius would be the very first nominee ever for the FCC who had previously been a venture capitalist, an entrepreneur and a tech executive," Hundt says.

Jim Cicconi, executive vice president of AT&T, agrees. Genachowski "is a highly qualified individual who understands the (telecom) industry and the issues we are facing."

In speeches, Obama has lately singled out broadband as a critical issue for the USA, viewing it as an economic driver that can create jobs and improve the quality of life, overall, for Americans.

Under current FCC chief Kevin Martin, the FCC has been looking for ways to drive broadband penetration in rural and low-income areas, in particular.

Martin "opened the door on a lot of important issues," Hundt says.

Pushing the USA to the next level could prove challenging. In a nod to the economic slowdown, big broadband carriers have lately been scaling back their capital investments. They're also focusing on denser markets where they can turn profits more quickly. Their approach has left swaths of the USA without viable broadband options.

The upshot: A lot of rural areas still rely on dial-up, which is too slow to handle video and interactive fare. Satellite-based Internet services, widely available in rural communities, offer faster speeds, but they can be pricey — more than $100 a month. Regular broadband costs about $40 a month, on average.

Like Obama, Genachowski is an American success story. His father, Hundt notes, fled Nazi-occupied Belgium; the family eventually settled in the USA.