Business

FCC chairman Genachowski is stepping down

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The FCC has confirmed that chairman Julius Genachowski is planning to step down. He formally announced his resignation at an agency all-hands meeting Friday morning.

While Genachowski’s resignation is a big shift for the agency, he didn’t seem to be taking it too hard. “I gathered you all here today to announced that I’m tied for first place in the FCC’s March Madness pool,” he joked as soon as he took the podium this morning. “It’s a big deal and a surprise, and I’m grateful to all of you.”

Genachowski didn’t announce a successor, nor did he reveal what his next plans were. But given how jovial he was during his speech, I don’t think he’s too worried about his next gig.

In his resignation speech, Genachowski pointed to the major progress we’ve seen in the tech world since he became chairman in 2009, including the rising app economy — “A U.S.-made phenomenon that’s created hundreds of thousands of jobs,” he noted — and the fact that annual mobile capital investment has risen 40 percent. He also called out the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, which laid out the steps necessary to bring fast broadband to all Americans.

Last night, sources told Politico, Reuters, and the Wall Street Journal that Genachowski [pictured above, right] was planning to resign. Genachowski, a Democrat, is expected to be the second opening on the commission, as senior Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell has also announced plans to leave. No doubt the tech industry will lobby heavily for favorite candidates for Obama to nominate as head of the agency, which oversees telecommunications, broadband, and broadcast policies.

Genachowski became chairman in 2009 and won approval for his overhaul of the Universal Service Fund, the rules on network neutrality, and the idea of incentive auctions. He helped the FCC veto AT&T’s planned purchase of T-Mobile, but he approved the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal. In that respect, the FCC chairmanship is an extremely powerful position.

And now that the tech industry has grown up and has its own powerful lobby. Obama is expected to nominate both a Democrat and a Republican as part of an attempt to appease both parties. Genachowski’s resignation has been expected for a while. Politico said that a leading candidate is Tom Wheeler, managing director at Core Capital Partners. Others mentioned include Ray Baum, a senior aide to Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and Neil Fried, senior telecommunications counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Additional reporting by Devindra Hardawar.


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