U.S. Senate approves communications panel chief

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved the Obama administration’s nomination of Julius Genachowski, a telecommunications industry executive, to head the Federal Communications Commission.

Genachowski is set to chair the five-member panel that will be dominated by Democrats seeking to bring more power to consumers and extend high-speed Internet access to rural parts of the United States.

The Senate also approved renewing the FCC term for Republican Robert McDowell.

The FCC’s broad mandate includes regulation of telephone and cable companies, oversight of ownership of radio and television outlets and management of public airwaves.

On Thursday the White House said Obama plans to nominate Meredith Attwell Baker to a Republican seat on the commission.

Baker has more than 12 years of experience in telecommunications and technology policy in the private and public sector, the White House said. She is a former Commerce Department official.

If she is formally nominated, the Senate Commerce Committee is likely to pair the nominations of Baker and Mignon Clyburn, who has been nominated to fill a Democratic seat, at a hearing. Clyburn is the daughter of House of Representatives Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina.

Expanding broadband Internet access to rural parts of the United States is among the top priorities that the Obama administration wants the FCC to tackle.

The FCC will help oversee billions of dollars in economic stimulus money that Congress approved in incentives for states and private companies to expand high-speed Internet in rural and underserved areas.

The FCC is required to submit a broadband plan to Congress by February.

Other issues the commission is expected to tackle include so-called “net neutrality” to prevent Internet services providers from giving preference to certain content, and whether consumers are getting short-changed by the exclusive deals between mobile phone makers and service providers.

Reporting by John Poirier, additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Xavier Briand