Julius Genachowski Makes Brilliant Move at FCC in Hiring Henning Schulzrinne as CTO

Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced the appointment of Henning Schulzrinne as Chief Technology Officer – a major move forward for the FCC and the US communications regulatory environment. This move was made in-part because the FCC has had to keep up with fairly rapid changes in the communications and networking worlds. Telephony was once a circuit-switched service provided by a handful of large telecommunications companies and a number of regional players.

It was relatively easy to understand and regulate. But when VoIP and other forms of IP communications came on the scene, the world became less defined. Vonage didn’t own the “pipes” to people’s houses but they provided telephone service. Thus the move from circuit switched communications to packet switched was underway. This raised issues of net neutrality but also changed the way communications service was to be regulated. Moreover, the FCC under Kevin Martin decided that VoIP providers had to rapidly deploy E911 service just like LECs and CLECs. This additional cost caused some VoIP players to go under but as Martin told me in a keynote interview at a recent ITEXPO – it wasn’t anything personal but a safety issue which needed addressing.

Fast forward to recent times… You know I have spoken about the death of the PSTN in this space and moreover I decided to dedicate a keynote lunch panel to the topic at ITEXPO as well. Although we are a number of years away from the inevitable death of the public switched telephone network, it will happen. Moreover, much of the technologies and standards to make this transition aren’t yet in place.

And to make matters worse it is only a matter of time before special interest groups get into the action and make statements about how the evil government and phone companies want to take away grandma’s telephone service.

So when the switch happens… It needs to be absolutely perfect. Flawless in fact.

This brings us to the news of Schulzrinne who has played an absolutely crucial role in the standards process and advancement of IP communications. Recently he was chair of the Computer Science department at Columbia University as well as co-chair of the Internet Technical Committee of the IEEE Communications Society. Perhaps most importantly he co-designed the Session Initiation Protocol which we affectionately know as SIP. Also the Real Time Streaming Protocol, the Real-time Transport Protocol and the General Internet Signaling Transport Protocol.

Schulzrinne has spoken at past TMC events and been an important part of the content we have created over the years – going back to the early days of Internet Telephony Magazine which launched in February of 1998. Here is a search (with news feeds) on TMCnet where you can see some of the mentions and coverage related to Schulzrinne.

The FCC is a government agency which generally means it is bogged down by bureaucracy, red tape and politics so a logical question is how much change can one man bring? I am unsure. But this move is a stroke of genius by Julius Genachowski and I give him the highest marks for his foresight in choosing Henning for such an important position at a time when the nation’s communications network will be experiencing absolutely revolutionary technological advancements.

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