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Genachowski resigns as FCC chairman

Fri, 03/22/2013 - 1:17pm
The Associated Press

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, on Friday announced his resignation in the "coming weeks."

The country's top telecommunications regulator told a staff meeting of his decision Friday morning. His impending departure was reported Thursday by several news outlets.

FCC Commissioner Rob McDowell announced his resignation earlier this week.

Genachowski, 50, was appointed in 2009 and has hewed a middle line between the desires of public-interest groups and the telecom industry, which hasn't enamored him to either side.

His tenure has seen continued adoption of broadband and ever higher Internet connection speeds, especially on the wireless side, but consumer groups saw the approval of Comcast's acquisition of NBC as a mistake, while AT&T Inc. suffered a severe blow when its acquisition of T-Mobile USA was blocked.

"For those of us who represent the public, Chairman Genachowski's term can best be described as one of missed opportunities," said public-interest group Public Knowledge. Genachowski should have done more to assert the FCC's authority over broadband, which is lightly regulated compared to the telephone, and to prevent consolidation in the industry, it said.

Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a non-partisan think tank, commended Genachowski's FCC for its National Broadband Plan — the first comprehensive federal plan to stimulate the buildout and uptake of high-speed Internet access — and for its efforts to bring put more radio spectrum to use wireless broadband.

While consumer groups may have been unhappy with Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal, that deal was not approved without restrictions, some called for by smaller cable companies worried about the market power Comcast could wield as a programmer.

The American Cable Association, which lobbies on behalf of smaller cable companies, said, “ACA also appreciates the seriousness with which Chairman Genachowski treated ACA’s concerns in the Comcast-NBC Universal transaction.  After a careful review of the public interest harms highlighted by ACA, the FCC imposed meaningful conditions that will benefit consumers served by smaller video programming providers who must negotiate with this media giant in the years ahead.”

The FCC also insisted that Comcast relegate itself to silent partner status regarding its share in Hulu, co-owned with Disney and News Corp.

The ACA lauded Genachowski for updating the Universal Service Fund to cover broadband and to be applied as fairly as possible, and for adopting a set of common-sense rules allowing cable operators to deploy low-cost HD set-top boxes, encrypt their digital basic service tier, offer must-carry TV signals in digital only, and obtain nondiscriminatory, just and reasonable access to utility poles.

The cable industry also credited Genachowski with calling attention to the broken retransmission consent regime, an issue that Congress seems more willing to take on now than at any time in the past.

NCTA CEO Michael Powell, himself a former FCC chairman, wrote: “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.”

Genachowski upon announcement of his departure thanked the FCC's staff. "America's broadband economy is thriving, with record-setting private investment, unparalleled innovation in networks, device and apps, and renewed U.S. leadership around the world," he said.

Genachowski's departure will follow that of Republican McDowell, which leaves the five-member commission with a 2-1 Democratic majority until President Obama appoints a new chairman and commissioner.

Stifel Nicolaus analysts Christopher King and David Kaut said they believe the front-running candidate for next chairman is Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist and former president of two major trade groups, for the cable and wireless industries.

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