WASHINGTON – Julius Genachowski called an all-hands meeting at the Federal Communications Commission to announced that he’d tied for first place in the agency’s March Madness pool. And that he would be stepping down as chairman in a few weeks.
“Today, I’m announcing I’ll be stepping down as chairman in the coming weeks. I’m not here to say good-bye… we’ll have opportunities to work together in the coming weeks. I’m here to say, ‘thank you.’”
Genachowski’s departure had been rumored for weeks and came two days after Commissioner Robert McDowell announced that he, too, would be leaving the commission.
Genachowski’s exit speech was a litany of the commission’s accomplishments during his tenure, including “steps to make broadband ubiquitous and bandwidth abundant.” He said the commission had initiated a multibillion dollar overhaul of the broadband infrastructure, deployed technology to drive transparency, and took “unprecedented” enforcement actions.
“America’s broadband economy is thriving with record-setting investment,” he said. “On mobile, the U.S. has gone from laggard to leader, leading the world in next-gen mobile broadband, with as many 4G LTE subscribers as the rest of the world combined.”
He said the apps economy had created “hundreds of thousands of jobs and it’s still early,” and that annual mobile capital investment was up 40 percent since 2009, when he was appointed chairman by President Barack Obama.
In television, Genachowski’s commission opened TV taboo channels for use by unlicensed devices, initiated the procedure to redesignate 40 percent of the spectrum from broadband, and basically a punt on retransmission consent reform.
The National Association of Broadcasters, often at odds with the broadcast-for-broadband chairman, sheathed its sword.
“NAB salutes Chairman Genachowski for his years of service at the FCC,” said NAB chief Gordon Smith 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.”
The American Cable Association and the Consumer Electronics Association joined the choir.
“Chairman Genachowski’s decision to shine a light on laws and regulations that are harming consumers should help persuade the next FCC chairman to revise the regulations and Congress to update the 1992 Cable Act,” the ACA said with regard to retransmission consent.
The CEA’s Gary Shapiro said he named Genachowski the “Spectrum Chairman” at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show.
“Consumers and industry alike will benefit for years to come thanks to Genachowski’s service at the FCC,” he said.
Consumer lobby Public Knowledge was a bit more prickly. PK pushed Genachowski to classify broadband as a Title II service, making it subject to tighter regulations. He did not.
“For those of us who represent the public, Chairman Genachowski’s term can best be described as one of missed opportunities,” PK said in a statement. “He had the opportunity, but declined, to solidify the agency’s authority and ability to protect consumers with regard to broadband…. As a result, there is a real danger that the FCC will become a powerless and irrelevant agency as the nation’s communications networks change.”
President Obama was OK with Genachowski’s contribution.
“I want to thank Chairman Genachowski for his dedicated service on behalf of the American people,” the president said. “Over the last four years, Julius has brought to the Federal Communications Commission a clear focus on spurring innovation, helping our businesses compete in a global economy and helping our country attract the industries and jobs of tomorrow. Because of his leadership, we have expanded high-speed Internet access, fueled growth in the mobile sector, and continued to protect the open Internet as a platform for entrepreneurship and free speech. I am grateful for his service and friendship, and I wish Julius the best of luck.”
Genachowski gave a shout-out to the president, saying that 25 years ago, when the pair were chums at Harvard, neither could anticipate “having devices in our pocket with more computing power than the rocket that sent a man to the moon.”
The soon-to-be former chairman also thanked his fellow commissioners and former commissioners Michael Copps and Meredith AttwellBaker.
“Thanks to them, we achieved reforms people thought were impossible,” he said. “We had disagreements, but never dysfunction.”
Genachowski called out Eddie Lazarus and Zach Katz, who both served as his chief of staff; former chairmans Reed Hundt, Michael Powell, William Kennard and Kevin Martin; and his family, including his parents, who came to the United States as immigrants.
He spoke about discussing with his dad an MIT project that would help blind people read print. He said he’d visited MIT again a couple of weeks ago, and met with different student engineering teams.
“Every project they were working on tied in with our work at the FCC,” he said.
The work of naming and confirming Genachowski’s replacement is likely under way. Those suspected of candidacy so far, according to published reports, include Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary at the Commerce Department who heads the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Tom Wheeler, a telecom investor and Obama fundraiser; Karen Kornbluh, Obama’s ambassador to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development; Blair Levin, architect of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, and others. Genachowski and McDowell’s exits leave Mignon Clyburn as the senior member on the commission. She was appointed in August 2009. Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai were sworn in last May.
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