By now most people in the tech ecosystem have heard the news that Julius Genachowski is stepping down from his role as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Under Genachowski’s leadership, the FCC has been a proponent of unleashing additional wireless spectrum to fuel our insatiable consumption of data. He has advocated for the creation of competition in the marketplace. The Chairman has been an outspoken voice in the struggle against international regulation of the Internet, and he championed the belief in the power of broadband and the vision of delivering access to American households.
His success on these issues, however, has been a mixed bag.
While spectrum auctions are theoretically moving forward with spectrum hitting the market as soon as 2015, he leaves behind unfinished business on this front. It is unknown whether or not broadcast TV is willing to put their spectrum on the block. Assuming broadcasters play ball, there are outstanding questions as to which entities will be allowed to participate in the auctions and how much of the spectrum will be dedicated to unlicensed spectrum. Realistically, no interested bidders will be denied the opportunity to participate as some of the funds will go toward the creation of a vital public safety network.
Genachowski has publicly acknowledged the vibrant and robust nature of the U.S. wireless market, yet the FCC’s recent wireless competition report failed to find the market effectively competitive despite all the evidence around us.
Despite falling short on spectrum and competition, Genachowski should be remembered as a staunch supporter of a free and open Internet. His legacy on this front is firmly intact. With the WCIT in our rearview mirror, the fight continues, but thanks to the Chairman’s ardent support of the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance, the U.S. is well-aligned on the matter and will continue the steady drumbeat against further ITU action.
Finally, what may be Genachowski’s longest lasting accomplishment is the National Broadband Plan, which was drafted and released under his leadership. The NBP, which serves as a north star for those in the field of telecommunications on both sides of the aisle, is oft-cited for its guiding tenets. Since the plan was announced, so much has happened in the wireless marketplace, but the Chairman’s National Broadband Plan has been a pillar in a constantly changing mobile world. An offshoot of the NBP is an organization essentially created by Genachowski and his former top advisor, Josh Gottheimer, called Connect2Compete, which offers broadband connectivity and low-cost computers in an effort to close the digital divide.
I have enjoyed an excellent relationship with Genachowski over the years and have a lot of respect for his accomplishments at a formative time in an extremely challenging environment. Despite the commission’s ups and downs during his tenure, Julius Genachowski leaves behind an FCC that is squarely focused on the future, that being the growth and expansion of the mobile ecosystem, which is the greatest economic driver in our economy.
Washington now quickly turns its attention to likely successors, and plenty of names have surfaced. Current commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn are well-respected candidates if Genachowski’s replacement comes from within the FCC. Other candidates include the NTIA’s Lawrence Strickling, former FCC staffer Blair Levin and venture capitalist Tom Wheeler. As always, the rumor mill is at a fever pitch, with well-placed sources inside the beltway indicating that Wheeler and Levin are the leading candidates at this early stage.