The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, announced today that he will be stepping down from the agency in the coming weeks, confirming recent rumors of him leaving before his term is up.
Genachowski was named head of the powerful federal agency in June 2009 by President Obama, a friend from his Harvard Law School days. He was well suited for the job, having worked as Mass Media advisor for former Chairman Reed Hundt in the mid Nineties, and also as an Internet executive for Barry Diller’s IAC group. He has led the FCC during a particularly contentious era, marked by issues like the open Internet (“net neutrality”), large mergers (Comcast/NBC Universal), spectrum recovery, increasing cyber security threats, disaster recovery and public safety issues, media ownership, and establishing the first wireless spectrum incentive auction scheme. A large project still in play is the conversion of the wireline telephone-oriented, Universal Service Fund to the new Connect America Fund to bring broadband to America.
One major accomplishment of his era was the issuance of the first National Broadband Plan, which set the nation’s course to upgrade aging telecommunications networks to bring broadband to the nation’s residents, including rural lands, urban areas with slow internet speeds, and tribal lands. A striking aspect of the National Broadband Plan was its emphasis as broadband as a tool for applications, such as telehealth, tele-education, e-government, e-commerce and more. Also, the National Broadband Plan put an emphasis on getting broadband to major community “anchors” such a hospitals, public safety, educational institutions, local government, and community non profit organizations.
Complicating matters is the fact that well-respected Republican Robert McDowell recently announced his departure from the agency. Once both Genachowski and McDowell leave, the FCC will be left with three commissioners, with two Democrats, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, and one Republican, Ajit Pai. The latter two are fairly new to the FCC. All eyes will be on the President as to who he will choose as his new Chairman.