Rough week marks end of FCC chairman’s summer in hell

Mike Riggs Contributor
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Among the Washington power set’s favorite past-times is betting on an agency head’s exit date. After all, it’s usually a question of when — not if — he or she is going to burn out, throw up his or her hands in frustration, and get hounded out of the gig. The betting tables are especially hot after a long week for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

At yesterday’s public FCC hearing, Free Press and MoveOn.org advocates sporting orange aprons handed out waffles and fliers to passersby with a message for the chairman: “Don’t waffle on net neutrality.”

It was a relatively tame gesture statement compared to past doozies, such as a threat made in May by Free Press’s Tim Karr.  “Chairman Genachowski is now squarely in the crosshairs of the netroots community,” Karr wrote on the Save the Internet blog. “Should he cave to corporate special interest and sell out Net Neutrality, it will become the signature action of a failed Obama appointee.”

The “professional left” has given the FCC chairman hell every month for the last 18. But this week was special. The bitching marked an anniversary of sorts: A year ago yesterday, Genachowski pledged to “preserve” net neutrality, and to preserve it quickly. A year later, net neutrality — or rather, the Internet as we’ve come to know it — is still around, despite the FCC’s catatonic state.

Many FCC watchers thought the agency would’ve done something by now to make good on Obama’s vaporous campaign promise to save the “open Internet.” But pushing through a reclassification of broadband, not to mention brokering a treaty between public interest groups and ISPs, has proved harder than Obama’s law school compadre likely imagined.

Nevertheless, the president nudged his turtlish agency head on Thursday — in front of the U.N.

“We will support a free and open Internet, so individuals have the information to make up their own minds,” President Obama said before the United Nations General Assembly. Savvy enough to say thanks, Genachowski graciously responded. “I commend President Obama for his strong statement before the United Nations General Assembly that communications networks can and must play a vital role in advancing economic development, freedom, and human dignity around the globe…It is essential that we preserve the open Internet and stand firmly behind the right of all people to connect with one another and to exchange ideas freely and without fear,” read a statement from the FCC chairman.

It was Genachowski’s second high-profile shout-out of the week. The first came courtesy of Free Press, which took an ad out in Politico challenging Genachowski’s dedication to net neutrality and saving the Internet from boogie men.

Earlier this month, Genachowski announced that his office would collect still more public comment before acting. Decoded, the message to the netroots read: Some other time, guys.

As a result, ISPs are feeling rather untouchable and public interest groups want a blood sacrifice.

NEXT: How net neutrality is viewed outside Nerd City
Meanwhile, outside of Nerd City, the American public is still not interested in seeing its government regulate the Internet. According to a poll paid for by telecommunications companies, 57 percent of respondents oppose regulating the Internet, and 76 percent think the Internet is working “very well” or “fairly well.”

A vacuum of political willpower in the Obama administration and in Congress may be giving the FCC chairman ulcers, but it hasn’t dampened the spirits of public interest groups. This is, after all, how they make their money. And if Genachowski can withstand their withering critiques for just a little while longer, Congress just might save his bacon by careening into the debate and granting two years of regulatory control to the FCC.