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The chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, on Friday announced his resignation in the “coming weeks.”

The country’s top telecommunications regulator told a staff meeting of his decision Friday morning. His impending departure was reported Thursday by several news outlets.

Genachowski, 50, was appointed in 2009 and has hewed a middle line between the desires of public-interest groups and the telecom industry, which hasn’t enamored him to either side.

His tenure has seen continued adoption of broadband and ever higher Internet connection speeds, especially on the wireless side, but consumer groups saw the approval of Comcast’s acquisition of NBC as a mistake, while AT&T Inc. suffered a severe blow when its acquisition of T-Mobile USA was blocked.

“For those of us who represent the public, Chairman Genachowski’s term can best be described as one of missed opportunities,” said public-interest group Public Knowledge. Genachowski should have done more to assert the FCC’s authority over broadband, which is lightly regulated compared to the telephone, and to prevent consolidation in the industry, it said.

Genachowski can depart without leaving behind a 2-2 partisan tie, notes AdAge, because Republican Robert McDowell, just days ago announced that he’ll resign in coming weeks. That will leave Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel as the FCC’s Democrats, and Ajit Pai as its sole Republican.

With two seats open on the FCC, the administration can advance a Republican and a Democratic nominee simultaneously, making it easier for both to win approval from the Senate, Andrew Lipman, a Washington-based partner for Bingham McCutchen, said in an interview.

Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a non-partisan think tank, commended Genachowski’s FCC for its National Broadband Plan — the first comprehensive federal plan to stimulate the buildout and uptake of high-speed Internet access — and for its efforts to bring put more radio spectrum to use wireless broadband.

“America’s broadband economy is thriving, with record-setting private investment, unparalleled innovation in networks, device and apps, and renewed U.S. leadership around the world,” Genachowski said Friday as he thanked the FCC’s staff.

Stifel Nicolaus analysts Christopher King and David Kaut said they believe the front-running candidate for next chairman is Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist and former president of two major trade groups, for the cable and wireless industries. Wheeler, a partner at Core Capital Partners, was a fundraiser and an adviser to Obama during his 2008 election campaign.

The current president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association is Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman, who probably earned his paycheck with the NBC/Comcast merger.

Other potential candidates named by Reuters include Lawrence Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Karen Kornbluh (recently an ambassador to OECD), and Blair Levin, a former FCC staff member and now industry analyst.

Genachowski was a pragmatist who steered the ship through rough waters. Tom Wheeler, while an accomplished entrepreneur, seems likely to take a turn to “unregulation,” more closely resembling his Republican predecessor, Kevin Martin, now a partner with the law firm Patton Boggs LLP, headquartered in Washington, D.C.

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