FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski skewered friend and foe alike at a banquet Thursday during a stand-up routine that included a bleeped F-word from his chief of staff, clips from South Park, and words he said the Third Circuit court found indecent. And that was just for appetizers.
The decibel level in a roomful of lawyers is akin to that on the tarmac of a major airport. Such was the cacophony Thursday night as members of the Federal Communications Bar Association mixed and schmoozed at the Washington Hilton Hotel at the annual chairman’s dinner, which salutes the reigning FCC chief by those whose fortunes are tied to the decisions he does and doesn’t make.
So loud was the din in the room that when those delicate NBC-like chimes hotels use to gently nudge the assemblage failed to move the throng from the reception to the dining room, a large gong was clanged repeatedly because, well, it was not loud enough in that room already.
The chairman’s speech was the usual mix of zingers, in this case aimed at industry, government, public interest groups and himself, aided by several videos including a lengthy one billed as what the FCC was planning to air in the first iteration of last month’s test of the emergency alert system, which was cut back from a couple of minutes to 30 seconds. In an apparent shout out to broadband, the video was about folks panicking because their internet, rather than broadcast service, had been interrupted. It featured clips from South Park and SNL and Family Guy and Ron Burgandy (Will Ferrell), among others.
Taking aim at the court battle over indecency, the chairman said that one of the FCC’s broadband acceleration orders got appealed “and the Third circuit issued a surprising ruling. They found that the terms “cramming” and “pole attachments” and “broadband penetration” are all violations of the FCC’s indecency rules,” he said.
He said he was proud of the FCC’s release of the report on the Information Needs of Communities (spearheaded by Genachowski’s former college chum, Steve Waldman), or “the Waldman report as I started to call it when it became controversial.”
He pointed out that the FCC had officially deleted the Fairness Doctrine, after which “immediately, talk radio hosts accused us of eliminating the Fairness Doctrine as part of a secret plot to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.”
The chairman talked about finally getting Universal Service Fund (USF) reform done in 2011–actually, there is still the contribution factor side to deal with, but it was his night so why spoil it. “The new Connect America Fund will create 500,000 new jobs,” he deadpanned, “and that’s just the lawyers.”
Among the funnier bits was an ensuing video purporting to be an ad about the Connect America Fund, but done as a lampoon of that Herman Cain campaign ad with the aide and the cigarette. It featured FCC Chief of Staff Eddie Lazarus sporting a fake mustache.
“Eddie Lazarus, since 2009, I’ve been privileged to the chief of staff at the Federal Communications Commission,” he said, smirking through the oversized fake stache. “We were in a campaign like nobody has ever seen. Then, nobody has ever seen a program as F’d up as USF [the f-word was bleeped, though that would not have necessarily saved the video from an indecency fine had it been broadcast since, well, we knew what he was saying]. I really believe that the Connect America Fund is going to put the “universal” back in universal service.
Among the other one or two liners:
“The chairman said LightSquared had two tables. That is the proposed network that has agreed not to use the upper part of its spectrum allocation closest to the GPS band to reduce potential interference. “Those of you sitting in the upper table will need to vacate the table,” he said, “and those of you at the lower table are still too loud.”
“We all went through D.C.’s first earthquake in 75 years. Fortunately there was not too much damage. But I can report that TV channels 4 and 5 got repacked.”
“I have three great colleagues, commissioner Copps, commissioner Clyburn and, uh, hmmm, opps. Commissioner McDowell dissents from that joke.”
“During the reception, you saw lawyers moving quickly from person to person searching a potential client to land or a government official to schmooze. We call it “roaming.”
“I can feel the sense of excitement and anticipation in the air. That’s right, only 10 more hours until Michael Powell appears on C-SPAN’s The Communicators. Nielsen is predicting it will be the most-watched episode since Reed Hundt attracted tens of viewers.”
He gave a shout out to National Telecommunications & Information Administration chief Larry Strickling, who was in attendance, though he apologized for the aggressive pat-down on the way in. “Security got a tip that you were hiding spectrum in your coat.”
“Last month the Sports Fan Coalition filed a petition to end the NFL’s mandatory blackout. Meanwhile, the Redskins fans filed a petition to require mandatory blackouts.”
“The Heat, the Eagles and the Red Sox, assembled so-called ‘dream teams,’ only to fizzle out. But Comcast is sticking to its current hiring strategy anyway.”
In a video bit about a conversation between the chairman and his iPhone with a persistent new Siri virtual assistant, the chairman poked fun at the fact that the Justice Department took the lead in filing suit against the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, which the FCC has since concluded was not in the public interest.
Genachowski: “That’s OK Siri, I don’t need you anymore.”
Siri: “You totally take me for granted.”
Genachowski: “I take you for granted?”
Siri: “[former antitrust division chief] Christine Varney is not the only woman who does your dirty work.”
And later in the bit, he took shots at a couple of high-profile public interest organizations:
Siri: “What about that mass of people who are angry about everything, but can’t seem to articulate a clear message?”
Genachowski: Occupy Wall Street?”
Siri: “Free Press.”
Genachowski: “Is there anyone here you like?”
Siri: [Public Knowledge founder] Gigi Sohn and [top legal eagle] Harold Feld. They were great in the new Muppet movie.”
Genachowski: “Thanks. How do I shut this thing down?”
Siri: “Issue a further notice of proposed rulemaking.” (one of those communications lawyer jokes that takes too long to explain but is actually funny).
The chairman ended on a serious note, with heartfelt thanks to his family and staff, a salute to commissioner and former acting chairman Michael Copps, attending his last chairman’s dinner as a sitting commissioner–when he wasn’t standing to collect congrats of well-wishers throughout the event, and closing words from an Apple commercial from 1997 about innovators, in tribute to the late Steve Jobs.
Of Copps, the chairman said: “I have been fortunate to serve with Mike Copps for two-and-a-half years. Mike has been a great colleague and a great friend. He has devoted himself to public service for almost 40 years, on Capitol Hill, in the Commerce Department and at the FCC.
We will long remember his deep and abiding respect for public service, his unflagging dedication to America’s consumers, and the passion and eloquence of his public statements. Commissioner Copps has worked tirelessly to give voice to the voiceless.
The FCBA members were not voiceless, giving him a shout-out via a standing ovation for a commissioner who has battled hard against the mergers and deregulation many in the room had fought for.
The dinner raised a record $43,000 for FCBA scholarships and internships, while its Nov. 10 charity auction raised $138,000 and change for, well, charity.