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Former FCC chairs Martin, Powell to Genachowski: Be consistent and act

Former Republican chairmen of the Federal Communications Commission had some advice for the current head of the embattled agency: act.

“Some of the most important advice I got as chairman was that you have to be deliberate in thinking and decision making but you have to make sure you move forward with what you thought was the right thing,” Kevin Martin said during an interview on C-Span’s “The Communicators” show.

Former Democratic chairman Reed Hundt (1993-1997) and Republicans Michael Powell (2001-2005) and Martin (2005-2009) appeared together on the show to talk about the current state of communications policy. Julius Genachowski has been confronted with a choice over whether to follow through on a controversial proposal to claim regulatory authority over broadband to create net neutrality rules.

“You have to telegraph what your core principles are, what you are going to stand for and that you have to act consistent with them in a predicable way,” said Michael Powell. He advised Genachowski to use his bully pulpit to influence the industry rather than implementing new regulations.

And he talked about how an outdated 1996 Communications Act has in part contributed to problems currently facing Julius Genachowski.

Cable, telephone, wireless and other communications mediums have been “balkanized into buckets” that predate the Internet, said Powell. Some rules fall into some of those buckets and some don’t, which he said needs to be addressed by a broad re-examination of the Communications Act by Congress.

That’s what Genachowski has partly blamed for his own problems – with a federal court’s recent interpretation that the agency overstepped its authority by sanctioning Comcast for allegedly blocking Internet traffic.

In his defense, Hundt said Genachowski has succeeded in helping the nation rethink broadband policy, even amid an economic downturn.

The former FCC heads discuss their achievements, regrets, media ownership issues (Powell talks about “surreal” conversations with lawmakers who don’t want their local newspapers and broadcasters to be owned by the same entity) and broadcast indecency (Hundt talks about how Mel Karmazin promised to pay a fine for shock jock Howard Stern’s profanity but turned around only to sue the agency).

By Cecilia Kang  | October 8, 2010; 4:53 PM ET
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