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Editorial: Fools Rush In

We come neither to bury FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski nor to praise him. The burying, for one thing, is being handled well by others.

Once—and possibly future—Genachowski fan Harold Feld of Public Knowledge, an eloquent telecom policy blogger not shy about speaking opinion to power, laid into the chairman last week for what he saw as Hamlet-like indecision.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Times was criticizing the chairman for defending Kevin Martin’s loosening of the cross-ownership rule, though to be fair, the chairman was defending the FCC’s power to make the decision it made under Martin, while not necessarily supporting the decision. The distinction has escaped some, but it is an important one, and the reason Harvard turns out lawyers like Genachowski and his former classmate, Barack Obama.

So, OK…maybe we are here to praise Genachowski a little bit, primarily for being willing to build consensus between both sides of the network neutrality debate by trying to clarify the FCC’s broadband regulatory authority. Given that this statute is where the FCC has to go for its marching orders, the ones making the laws would seem to be in the best position to make their wishes known.

Network neutrality fans would have preferred that Genachowski simply plow ahead with Title II broadband reclassification, dismissing the arguments of the industry as simply the Astroturf-driven lobbying muscle of fat cats with cigars and pinkie rings trying to run the world from their private jets, or marginalizing the concerns of other groups as puppets of those same robber barons.

But the chairman has been in the industry and understands, perhaps, that there is lobbying muscle and agendas on both sides of the arguments, even his own, and that compromise does not have to equal appeasement.

Choosing not to act, by the way, is also a decision. But the chairman did act, trying to bring together both sides on an issue with huge implications for the future of the broadband revolution the FCC is sworn to lead, with Congress moving pretty swiftly to express its reservations about Title II reclassification.

We have plenty of bones to pick with this FCC, and we’ve been picking them. But the fact that the chairman has not simply carried the water of the progressive agenda, or taken advantage of his three votes to push through network neutrality rules before a federal court weighed in, or push a Title II regime that a majority of the members of Congress have warned against, is, to us, hardly justifi cation for public pillorying.