People love to criticize the federal government for its shortcomings, and they're often right to do so. However, there are the occasional heroes in government that deserve recognition. One of them, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, stepped down last week after four remarkable years.
Most people cannot keep track of the tangle of acronyms in Washington and barely appreciate what the FCC does. As the agency that "regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable" across the country, it has the often difficult responsibility of protecting consumers while fostering rapid innovation.
As we move into the future of technology and telecommunications, more people will come to realize that the person running this agency is setting policy that will prepare America's infrastructure for the 21st century. FCC chairmen often fall into one of two camps -- stern regulators focused on compliance or free-market stalwarts eager to spark private sector growth. Chairman Genachowski is rare in his ability to simultaneously accomplish both goals.
Among his achievements are three successes that should get everyone's attention:
First, he personally spearheaded a four-year effort to connect Americans to broadband. The cornerstone of this effort was the Connect America fund, a $45 billion, ten-year public-private partnership to extend broadband across the country. This is the largest broadband infrastructure program ever established and will finally provide broadband access to all of rural America. Under Chairman Genachowski's leadership the FCC also established the nation's first National Broadband Plan to guide future actions.
Second, to better bring new opportunities for mobile applications to American entrepreneurs he pioneered voluntary incentive auctions and other cutting-edge spectrum policies. This issue was hardly on the public's radar in 2009 when Chairman Genachowski unveiled his plan to double the amount of available spectrum by 2020. Today, the FCC is on pace to exceed its goals for 2015 spectrum levels and meet the 2020 goal of 500 MHz. This not only brought more tax dollars into the U.S. Treasury, it created more bandwidth for the nation's entrepreneurs and consumers.
Third, he forged an important compromise between business and consumers to provide "net neutrality." This ensures that Internet service providers don't discriminate between different kinds of online content and apps and guarantees a level playing field for all websites and Internet technologies. It also ensures that Internet users have fair and open access to online content.
In short, Julius Genachowski has leveraged a powerful but somewhat obscure post to protect consumers, drive investment and innovation, and make necessary improvements in our telecommunications infrastructure. The result has been greater choice in the marketplace, more opportunities for entrepreneurs, and a vital boost to our economy.
As someone who has overseen two government agencies, I know public sector management is harder than it looks. When someone gets it right we should all stand up and applaud. For decades, Robert Moses was viewed as a role model for "making things happen" in the public sector as he revitalized New York in the 1940s and '50s. Julius Genachowski has just done something equally impressive with the most important sector of our economy.
Steve Westly is managing partner of The Westly Group, a clean technology venture capital firm. He previously served as California state controller and was a senior vice president at eBay, Inc.