FCC Chairman Genachowski stepping down
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski will be stepping down in the coming weeks, he announced Friday morning at a staff meeting.
The Obama appointee has run the agency since 2009, and presided over the issuance of vital regulations pertaining to the wireless spectrum, national broadband infrastructure and network neutrality. Genachowski also oversaw the agency’s rejection of AT&T’s attempted buyout of T-Mobile, and its approval of Comcast’s merger with NBC-Universal.
“When Barack Obama and I first met almost 25 years ago — before the age of cellphones and the Internet — neither of us could have imagined today’s world, where Americans have devices in their pockets with more computing power than the rocket that put a man on the moon,” Genachowski said Friday morning. “While there are challenges ahead in this fast-moving, globally competitive sector, a revitalized FCC is prepared to continue taking them on. I’m deeply grateful to President Obama for his vision, friendship and the opportunity to serve our country.
Though hailed as a reformer coming into office, he leaves the agency with numerous dogged critics still reeling from his regulatory legacy.
“Though President Obama promised his FCC chairman would not continue the Bush administration’s failed media ownership policies, Genachowski offered the exact same broken ideas that Bush’s two chairmen pushed,” Craig Aaron, CEO of media advocacy group Free Press, said in an advisory. “He never faced the public and ignored the overwhelming opposition to his plans.”
Technology watchdog Public Knowledge cast a similar shadow on Genachowski’s tenure, calling it one of “missed opportunities,” particular on the matter of national broadband regulation.
“He had the opportunity, but declined, to solidify the agency’s authority and ability to protect consumers with regard to broadband—the communications system of the present and future,” a statement from the group explained. “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.”
As a result of the FCC declining to regulate information services like voice networks, the agency is still restrained in its authority to intervene in the broadband marketplace and set rules. The danger Public Knowledge speaks of is that lack of regulation is leading the nation’s largest carriers to push voice users onto Internet-based networks.
AT&T recently pitched the FCC on that very thing: a series of trials that would see its voice services in some areas switched over to Internet-based wireless networks, ostensibly giving the FCC a chance to see how it goes and figure out what rules it should set.
While the FCC has not said whether they will allow these trials to move forward, the plan could end up with AT&T and other carriers shifting their services into a largely regulation-free realm where net neutrality does not apply and voice services come almost entirely over wireless, which can be much more expensive than the older wirelines that were subsidized by the taxpayers to ensure universal access in poor and rural communities.
It’s not clear who may be in line to replace Genachowski, but on behalf of the Women’s Media Center, Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem are trying to convince Obama to appoint a progressive woman to oversee the nation’s communications regulator.
Photo: Flickr user US Mission Geneva, creative commons licensed.