As expected, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski today announced that he will step down in the coming weeks.
Genachowski made the announcement during a staff-wide meeting on Friday morning, which was webcast. He did not elaborate on his decision to leave the agency, taking time to instead thank FCC staff and champion some of the issues he and those staffers have tackled in the last four years.
Chief among them is broadband. “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 said. “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 flourishing.”
That included the National Broadband Plan, which was released in March 2010.
President Obama selected Genachowski as FCC chairman in March 2009, and he was confirmed by the Senate in June. Genachowski served on Obama’s transition team and previously worked as a venture capitalist in Washington. He was chief counsel at the FCC under Reed Hundt, who was FCC chairman from 1993 to 1997, and held executive positions at Internet firm IAC/InteractiveCorp.
Genachowski’s five-year term as chairman of the FCC officially ends in June, and there was a lot of discussion as to whether he would remain for President Obama’s second term or resign and make way for a new chairman.
Genachowski said that he will “continue fully” in his role as chairman during the next few weeks. He thanked President Obama for selecting him as chairman, which he called “an honor beyond words.”
Industry groups such as CTIA, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and US Telecom issued statements thanking Genachowski for his service, though they frequently tangled with the agency under his leadership.
Consumer groups Free Press and Public Knowledge were a bit more vocal with their disappointment; Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron said Genachowski “catered to corporate interests,” while his “tenure has been marked by wavering and caving rather than the strong leadership so needed at this crucial agency.”
Aaron pointed to media ownership rules and broadband prices, though he praised the chairman for his opposition to the failed T-Mobile/AT&T merger.
The fact is, Genachowski has presided over a number of controversial topics in the last four years. Some decisions pleased consumer groups, others pleased wireless and telecom companies, but no one got everything they wanted. As a result, no one group or company was 100 percent happy with everything the FCC has done in the past few years.
Here’s a look at some of the more controversial topics tackled by the FCC under Genachowski.
NET NEUTRALITY: The FCC approved its net neutrality rules in Dec. 2010, and they officially went into effect on Nov. 20, 2011. For those who need a refresher, net neutrality is the concept that everyone should have equal access to the Web. Amazon should not be able to pay to have its Web site load faster than a mom-and-pop e-commerce site, for example. After Comcast was accused of blocking P2P sites, however, the FCC decided to craft rules that would ban ISPs from discriminating based on content. It was OK to slow down your entire network during peak times, for example, but you couldn’t block a particular site, like BitTorrent. The rules approved by the FCC gave the commission the authority to step into disputes about how ISPs are managing their networks or initiate their own investigations if they think ISPs are violating its rules. But telecoms argued that the FCC did not have the authority to oversee such matters, a debate that continues today.
AT&T/T-MOBILE MERGER: On an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon in March 2011, AT&T surprised the tech community when it announced plans to acquire T-Mobile for $39 billion. AT&T argued that the purchase would help stop the spectrum crunch and spur the companies’ deployment of 4G service. Detractors, especially rival Sprint, countered that the deal would lead to a duopoly, with AT&T and Verizon controlling the wireless industry, and likely lead to job cuts and price hikes. After several congressional hearings, multiple filings with the FCC, and opposition from the FCC and the DOJ, AT&T ultimately abandoned its bid to buy T-Mobile (which recently purchased MetroPCS).
INCENTIVE AUCTIONS: As part of its national broadband plan, the FCC in 2010 proposed allowing broadcast TV stations to voluntarily sell some of their spectrum for mobile broadband purposes. Broadcasters were concerned about whether the process would be truly voluntary, but now – several years later – it appears that incentive auctions will finally get off the ground sometime this year.
VERIZON SPECTRUM PURCHASE: While the FCC and Congress hashed out how best to auction off spectrum, meanwhile, major carriers cooked up a few deals by themselves. Among the more controversial deals was one that allowed Verizon Wireless to pay $3.6 billion to buy spectrum from three cable firms. Consumer groups balked, but the FCC gave its approval in August, with a few conditions. Meanwhile, AT&T bought $1.9 billion worth of Verizon spectrum in January.
IS WIRELESS COMPETITIVE? The FCC irked the wireless industry in 2010 and 2011, when it failed to say that it was competitive. The FCC is required to present a wireless competition report to Congress every year, and in the first 13 years, the FCC consistently found that sufficient competition existed. But to the chagrin of wireless supporters and detractors alike, the commission opted not to make a definitive statement about competition in 2010 and 2011. Just yesterday, the FCC released its most recent report, which followed the same path as the last two years.
DATA ROAMING: The FCC approved its roaming rules in early April 2012. The rules let wireless users stay connected when they travel outside their own network’s coverage areas by connecting to another provider’s network, the FCC said. The rules, which were approved on party lines by a vote of 3 to 2, were important to smaller carriers that told the FCC that they cannot compete against larger wireless providers like Verizon and AT&T without data roaming agreements. Verizon said the move “represents a new level of unwarranted government intervention in the wireless marketplace.” It filed suit the following month, but an appeals court upheld the FCC’s rules in December.
By Chloe Albanesius, PCMag