Julius Genachowski is out as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Capping off a four-year stint as the country’s top telecom regulator, Genachowski was responsible for pushing network-neutrality rules as well as killing the T-Mobile/AT&T merger of 2011. But he also leaves a lot for his successor to do. Here's what's ahead, over the short, medium, and long terms:
Net neutrality. Although the commission passed a rule in late 2010 prohibiting Internet providers from giving priority to certain kinds of Web traffic, the decision is in the middle of a legal challenge, and a ruling is expected to come down this spring. If the verdict goes against the FCC, service providers will have another opportunity to enact rules on traffic discrimination.
The IP transition. The FCC is overseeing a gradual process in which telecom operators are replacing much of their backbone—the infrastructure responsible for connecting phone calls—with fiberoptic cables. Major service providers have argued that this new system, which operates on Internet protocol, deserves a new set of rules and regulations. Smaller companies, meanwhile, want older copper networks to be preserved to some extent. Whomever succeeds Genachowski will have a large role to play in this battle.
The spectrum auction. In 2014, television broadcasters will be selling off unused parts of the wireless spectrum to the government. Because there’s only so much of the airwaves for companies to send their data over, spectrum is incredibly valuable. Once the auction is complete, Washington plans to turn around and sell some of the spectrum to wireless carriers. They’ll use the new spectrum to build out their cell-phone infrastructure, while the parts the government keeps will be opened up for anyone to use. Exactly how those proportions break down is something the FCC will do a lot to determine.