After four years America's telecommunications regulator has a big leadership shakeup

U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski announced his decision to step down from the prestigious post on Friday, confirming rumors published by Reuters earlier this week.  Chairman Genachowski had manned the prestigious post for four years.

I. FCC Chief Resigns

The leadership change at America's telecommunications regulatory agency is the second major one in recent weeks for the Obama administration.  U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced a little over a month ago that he was stepping down after four years in office.

At a 20-minute departure speech to staffers, he bragged of the progress made in the national broadband plan.  He bragged about the success of freeing up wireless spectrum in particular, stating, "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.  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."

Julius Genachowski
Chairman Julius Genachowski hugs a coworker after announcing his decision to resign.
[Image Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images]

The FCC also succeeded in prodding Congress to transition the $8B USD Clinton-era Universal Services Fund (USF) towards broadband.  The USF had originally been designed to increase land line phone service to rural areas of the U.S., which carriers refused to serve due to undesirable profit potential. But amid fading interest in landlines, the move towards broadband seemed a wise move.

Chairman Genachowski followed in the President's footsteps, graduating in 1991 from Harvard Law School with high honors.  Before his time at the FCC he clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and then later for Justices William J. Brennan and David Souter at the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

II. Strongest Impact? Perhaps Blocking AT&T Deal

Perhaps the biggest contribution of Chairman Genachowski's reign, however, was his role in challenging AT&T (T) from taking yet another step in cellular network consolidation.  After happily stamping decades of mergers and acquisitions, AT&T hit a roadblock in its effort to acquired Deutsche Telekom AG's (ETR:DTE) T-Mobile USA, a move which would leave only three major carriers and make AT&T the nation's largest network.

For better or worse, today we have a much more competitive market thanks to that move. AT&T remains strongas does Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ)/Vodafone Group Plc.'s (LON:VOD) joint subsidiary Verizon Wireless.  At the same time Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) is looking revitalized thanks to a bailout/partial acquisition by Japan's Softbank Corp. (TYO:9984)  And T-Mobile USA has been merged with MetroPCS Communications Inc. (PCS) in a deal approved earlier this month.

As a result of these shifts, the players in the market have held steady, while strengthening the "weaker" carriers -- seemingly the best-case scenario for consumers.

AT&T glass
Chairman Genachowski helped block AT&T's T-Mobile USA takeover attempt. 
[Image Source: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton]

Even some of his foes seemed to acknowledge that the Chairman's oft-criticized stands wound up working out well in the end.  Republican Commissioner Robert M. McDowell commented, "Although occasionally we disagreed, sometimes profoundly, he leaves office with my utmost respect.  He proved that through hard work, persistence and creativity, bipartisanship and compromise in policymaking can occur in Washington, even in these days of sharp divisions and gridlock."

A handful of groups offered a bit of criticism, though.  For example, Public Knowledge, a consumer rights advocacy group, offered faint praise for some of the Chairman's stands (like blocking the AT&T/T-Mobile USA merger), while slamming Chairman Genachowski's his general tenure as a time of "missed opportunities".  Public Knowledge was upset at the Chairman's refusal to strictly regulate net neutrality rules on the mobile market and on his relative disinterest in committing to a major copyright reform platform with regards to digital rights (e.g. legalizing backup copies, etc.).

No immediate replacement has been announced for Mr. Genachowski.

Given his relatively strong track record and history of bridging partisan gaps, don't be surprised to see Chairman Genachowski as a future Federal Appeals Court or Supreme Court nominee under a democratic president.

Sources: FCC [1], [2], Public Knowledge, Reuters

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