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Chairman Taks Aim At FCBA Dinner

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Thursday ended the suspense over his future.

At the Federal Communications Bar Association's annual chairman's dinner in Washington Thursday night, the chairman acknowledged that, since the election, there had been speculation about him--there is much chatter he will be exiting the post sometime next year.

"This will be my last chairman's dinner," he said, to a "No!" from one audience member. But they needn't have worried. "I'm not making any announcement," he added, "I just believe in the Mayan prophesy"--that the world is ending Dec. 21.

Genachowski was just getting started as he good-naturedly poked fun, sometimes with a slightly sharpened stick, at lobbyists, staffers and even journalists.

Saying that the New York Times' election prognosticator par excellance Nate Silver had now made some predictions about the industry, Genachowski reeled off some statistics.

"Fifty-eight percent of you believe we'll overregulate," he said, and fifty eight percent of you believe we will under-regulate you. I know those numbers don't add up. Welcome to FCC land."

He had a similarly double-edged welcome for the lawyers that filled the room--he is one himself--saying that there was "a 2% chance that the wait staff thinks this is the coolest crowd it's ever seen."

The jab got a tad sharper when he turned to some industry players.

"There is a 42% chance that someone from News Corp. is checking voicemail...I mean their own voicemail," he added [a shot at the British phone hacking scandal]."

Apple was the next up. "If you tried to get into tonight's dinner using Apple Maps, there is a 12% chance you are currently at a Hooters (a photo flashed on the screen of a Hooters restaurant parking lot with the faces of former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt (Genachowski's old boss) and public interest lawyer Andy Schwartzman flanking a young woman.

Genachowski also had some fun at the expense of Mitt Romney, who lost out to the chairman's former Harvard law classmade in the recent election. He said he had been told that 47% of the night's attendees had not paid for a ticket. "My job is not to worry about them. They are the takers," he said, people who get money for no appreciable work, or, as they are otherwise known: Lawyers.

Genachowski said everyone was happy that the election was over, except perhaps broadcasters. "TV stations made more than a billion dollars in ad revenue this cycle," he said. "That may explain why [NAB President] Gordon Smith has a Citizen's United tattoo."

Arguably the biggest groaner came at the expense of would-be 4G wireless company LightSquared--backed by financier Philip Falcone--whose FCC waiver ran into a GPS juggernaut that caused the FCC to back off that approval and jeopardize billions in investment.

Citing the Washington National's heartbreaking playoff loss after a record winning season, the chairman said: "I was at their last playoff game and witnessed the biggest collapse in history. Now I know how Phil Falcone felt." The line was greeted with a mix of laughs and more than a few groans.

Turning to the fiscal cliff, Genachowski pointed out that Comcast's Brian Roberts and AT&T's Randall Stephenson had met with the President about possible solutions. He said they were working on an innovative plan: The Grand Bargain Triple Play. "Social Security, Medicare and the Pentagon will be bundled together for $99 billion. And they'll throw in a DVR and HBO."

He said this was the year that 4G LTE really arrived. "And you know what 4G means. Thirty-three percent more G."

It is traditional for the chairman to provide a video send-up featuring staffers and the chairman did not disappoint, providing two videos. One was a takeoff on the PSY video, Gangnom Style, with the heads of his fellow commissioners and himself superimposed on various characters--superimposed heads was a theme of sorts. The chairman had only last weekend seen the real thing at Turner/Time Warner's Christmas in Washington taping, where PSY performed a yuletide version of the song.

The other video was set to Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" and featured lip synching and dancing by a host of good sports including all the commissioners, what appeared to be most of the FCC staff, as well as a boogying National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell, former Chairman Reed Hundt, former Commissioner Michael Copps on drums, Andy Schwartzman in a blond wig, lobbyists, former FCC officials and others too numerous too mention or unknown to me. It drew wild applause, and deservedly so as a bipartisan bit of fun that struck the right chord in a politically divided town.

The chairman had obviously been working to keep his material current. This week, he announced the creation of an IP transition task force, drawing thanks from Commissioner Ajit Pai, who noted that he had suggested such a task force in September. During one joke, the chairman did a "non-spit" take. Coughing, he reached for a glass of water, took a drink, then said. "In September, commissioner Pai told me to take that drink of water."

His final riff was a takeoff on the theme of the President's campaign journey, "Don't stop believing."

"When [media bureau chief] Bill Lake keeps using air quotes whenever he says the word "voluntary"...don't stop believing."

"When you've just hired a new cybersecurity expert and his name is John McAfee...don't stop believing."

"When the CEO of Time Warner Cable schedules a meeting to lobby you and gives you a window of 9 a.m. to noon and he doesn't show up until 6...don't stop believing."

"When the Internet domain space is expanded to include dot triple x because, apparently, some folks need help finding online porn...don't stop believing."

In her opening remarks, FCBA President Laura Phillips got in a shot at Dish and the guard band requirements the FCC put on its new Dish-targeted spectrum rules. "The centerpieces at your table tonight are brought to you by Charlie Ergen at Dish Network," she said. "Unfortunately a portion of the flowers are not usable because they interfere with the salt and pepper shakers."