FCC Chairman to be Ousted: Broadband Reforms in Jeopardy

Dennis Faas's picture

According to reports, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Kevin Martin, is on his way out. It could spell an end for controversial plans to create a nationwide free wireless broadband system.

It was widely expected that newly elected President Barack Obama would have replaced Martin as chairman upon taking office. (Martin would have remained as one of the five commissioners as that position was guaranteed until 2011.) Martin has opted to resign effective January 20th (Obama's inauguration day) and will take up a post at the Aspen Institute, a non-partisan think-tank. (Source: reuters.com)

The FCC regulates broadcasting and telephone use as well as determining government policy on many Internet issues. Martin had been spearheading a plan to auction off frequencies which will be freed up when TV broadcasters switch to all-digital broadcasting next month. Those plans had included forcing one auction winner to provide free wireless Internet across the nation, making its cash by charging for faster access services. Opponents had argued it wasn't the government's business to make such demands and that Internet access should be left to the free market.

Martin had also been pushing for reforms to a system that decides how telephone call charges are split when two or more firms are involved. The proposals were designed to be a fairer split and to help subsidize supply of broadband services in rural areas where it would otherwise be unprofitable.

Martin said funding for the reforms could come from allowing firms to charge up to $8.50 a month to provide fixed-line service (currently capped at $6.50), or by charging a $1 license fee on every handset sale, whether fixed-line or cellphone.

There is already a vacancy on the commission with the end of Deborah Taylor-Tate's term in December. Obama had reportedly been considering appointing Julius Genachowski, who drafted his technology policy during the Presidential election campaign, to both fill her commissioner post and take over as chairman. (Source pcmag.com

While the change of chairman may alter FCC policy, Martin's departure as a commissioner won't necessarily make any difference to its political stance. That's because FCC rules say that only three members of the same political party can serve as commissioners at one time. If Democrat Genachowski does join the commission, the spot left by Martin will have to be filled by a Republican or an independent.

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