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January 21, 2009

Obama's Work Is Just Beginning

Barack Obama took the oath of office today as the first African-American president in U.S. history, and change was in the air.
During a soaring inaugural address, Obama praised the hard work of ordinary citizens and called on Americans to “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” Among the projects he mentioned: building “the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.”
Some two million Americans packed into the Mall to watch the speech on JumboTrons. Cell phone companies laid on extra capacity to handle the myriad of text messages and photos coming from Washington. 
AIling titans like Ted Kennedy and Muhammad Ali made their way painfully toward their seats on the podium. During the luncheon that followed, the 76-year-old Kennedy, often called the liberal lion of the Senate, whose endorsement of Obama came at a pivotal moment in the campaign, collapsed and was taken to the hospital. 
There were heartwarming views of the Obama children -- youngest daughter Sasha gave her father a thumbs-up after his speech and fairly skipped along the parade route. Her older sister Malia snapped photos during the ceremony, taking in the awesome sight of more people on the Mall than had ever gathered there before in history, and the unprecedented passing of the mantle from the 43rd white president of the United States to the first black one.
But tomorrow, after the parade route is cleaned up and the Metro returns to a normal work-week schedule, after the crowds leave and the new president is left alone in the Oval Office to face a mountain of problems, Hollywood will start reading the fine print.
Atop the entertainment and media industry’s agenda as a new administration takes office:
Broadcasters want to know if Julius Genachowski, Obama’s still-unofficial choice to lead the Federal Communications Commission, will loosen the FCC’s approach to enforcement of indecency standards. The president-elect gave a subtle hint during the campaign when he argued for technology that helps “protect our children while preserving the First Amendment."
Movie studio heads want to know if the Obama administration will get serious about protecting movies from piracy, particularly as home video systems get more sophisticated and consumers start downloading material from their computers.
And Internet providers want to know what Congress will do about net neutrality, that buzz phrase for preventing a tiered system of the speed of Web content based on its source, ownership or destination.
Some tea-leaf readers think that Genachowski’s  appointment will mean an FCC policy more tuned to consumers than telecom companies. But business lobbies still have tremendous clout in Washington and for his part, Genachowski has been guarded at revealing many positions – as befits an official not yet confirmed by the Senate.
Another major change for the media industry is in the House of Representatives, where Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va) is replacing Ed Markey, the Massachusetts congressman, as Chair of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Markey is a fixture on telecom issues who was known for his stalwart defense of consumers. Boucher, one of the co-founders of the Congressional Internet Caucus, favors net neutrality, and is eager to extend the Internet, with its potential to generate jobs and commerce, to rural areas like that of his southwestern Virginia district.
But that’s all tomorrow. This – and this night -- belonged to Obama, who was riding a wave of good will toward the White House. As Marc Anthony put it the other day, “Washington’s never had a bigger rock star at the helm.”

-- Johanna Neuman



More on Genachowski, and some educated guesses on his positions:

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