FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has made his departure
In a meeting on Friday morning that was streamed on the FCC's website, he told
the assembled staffers that he would be leaving the agency "in the coming
Genachowski did not say when he was leaving, but he is
expected to stay through the commission's April 18 meeting. He also has a date
to address the National Association of Broadcasters convention April 10.
"Over the past four years, we've focused the FCC on
broadband, wired and wireless, working to drive economic growth and improve the
lives of all Americans," he told staffers. "And thanks to you, the
Commission's employees, we've taken big steps to build a future where broadband
is ubiquitous and bandwidth is abundant, where innovation and investment are
Genachowski joined the commission in June 2009, a moment
hailed by public interest group progressives as an opportunity to advance their
agenda. But the FCC under chairman Genachowski proved more moderate, approving
the Comcast/NBCU merger, for one, adopting pro-cable policies primarily because
they were also pro-broadband, and re-introducing a loosening of media ownership
rules similar to that of predecessor Kevin Martin, who was pilloried by some of
the same groups hanging their agenda on Genachowski.
"He closed the terrestrial loophole and he got
significant industry and public interest buy in on the network neutrality
solution, says Preston Padden, who heads the Expanding Opportunities for
Broadcasters Coalition. Both of those were improbable accomplishments."
Genachowski's announcement follows one earlier in the
week by Republican commissioner Robert McDowell, who also said he is leaving in
the next few weeks. The tandem exits give the president a chance to pair their
replacements. In the interim, either commissioners Mignon Clyburn or Jessica
Rosenworcel could be acting chairs of a 2-1 commission. Both are in the
conversation to replace Genachowski as well, as is National Cable and
Telecommunications Association president Tom Wheeler and Karen Kornbluh,
longtime Obama adviser.
Said to be among those on the list of possible McDowell
replacements are Ray Baum, former Oregon Public Utility Commission chairman and
current top adviser to House Communications Subcommittee chair Greg Walden
(R-Ore.), and Neil Fried, senior telecommunications counsel to the House
Energy and Commerce Committee. Michael O'Rielly, a staffer with Senate Republican
John Cornyn (Texas), and former Scripps Networks chief legal officer A.B. Cruz,
who is Latino, have also been mentioned.
In a letter to the commission Friday, women's
groups called on the president to name a woman to succeed Genachowski.
Tributes were already beginning to flow even before the
official staff meeting announcement.
"As a former FCC chairman who appreciates the
incredible privilege and immense responsibility of overseeing the nation's
telecommunications sector, I want to thank and congratulate chairman
Genachowski for his outstanding leadership and remarkable accomplishments
during his tenure," said National Cable and Telecommunications Association
president Michael Powell in a statement. "During a period of tremendous
economic turmoil and marketplace uncertainty, chairman Genachowski established
a future-focused agenda that promoted investment in networks and services that are
now delivering important societal benefits to American consumers. Chairman
Genachowski wisely believed that ubiquitous Internet connectivity would be the
defining technology of our day, and his leadership has ensured that America's
robust wired and wireless broadband networks are world class. The entire cable
industry is grateful to chairman Genachowski for his exceptional
leadership. We look forward to working closely with the current and future
leadership of the Commission."
"NAB salutes chairman Genachowski for his years of
service at the FCC," National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon
Smith said in a statement. "The FCC chair is arguably one of the most
difficult jobs in Washington, and yet Julius consistently performed with
dedication and focus. We may have disagreed on occasion, but America's
broadcasters wish him well in his journeys ahead."
"Viewed in their totality, chairman Genachowski's
achievements -- which include numerous waivers and exemptions that avoided
placing disproportionate regulatory burdens on smaller operators -- show
that he understood and accounted for the concerns and values of smaller
operators," said the American Cable Association. "ACA greatly
appreciates that and wishes chairman Genachowski a long and productive future."
Though the kudos far outweighed the barbs, not everyone was
singing the chairman's praises.
Free Press, which celebrated Genachowski's arrival, also
applauded his exit. Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron made the following
statement: "When Julius Genachowski took office, there were high hopes
that he would use his powerful position to promote the public interest. But
instead of acting as the people's champion, he's catered to corporate
interests. His tenure has been marked by wavering and caving rather than the
strong leadership so needed at this crucial agency."
The chairman did not want to comment, but a
source close to Genachowski put it this way, reinforcing the sense that the
chairman looked to a middle ground rather than any particular agenda beyond
promoting the spread of the Internet: "When someone is criticized
from the far left and the far right, they are probably doing the right thing."