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FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to Resign Friday (Report)

Genachowski's term ends this summer

Julius Genachowski will announce his resignation as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Friday, according to multiple reports, including the Wall Street Jourrnal and Politico. 

Genachowski has been in the position since June 2009, and it was widely expected he would step down in President Barack Obama’s second term.

Genachowski's term ends June 30. Reached by TheWrap, Russell Caditz-Peck, special assistant to Genachowski, declined to comment on word of Genachowski’s resignation.

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However, rumors of Genachowski's impending departure have been circling Washington for months.

This is the second resignation from the FCC this week. Republican Robert McDowell announced Wednesday that he would be leaving before his term expires. His term also was set to end this summer.

Genachowski became FCC chairman in June 2009, and his term expires June 30. A close friend of Obama's, he has known the president since their college days. Early in the Obama administration, he often played basketball with the president.

He has led the agency through a contentious five years, facing the continued mergers of media conglomerates, debates over the proper use of the internet and the proliferation of mobile devices.

The FCC has made a series of controversial decisions, such as approving Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal and questioning the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile. Genachowski  fought some in Congress over the FCC's ability to regulate net neutrality, which he eventually helped enact, and he was heavily involved in the agency's efforts to provide more spectrum for wireless use in part by trying to take some unused spectrum from TV stations. 

He created the auction in which TV stations can voluntarily give up some of their spectrum, then share in the revenue the FCC gets for it. He also pushed for revising subsidies for phone service for the poor to reflect internet service as well.

He also had to deal with the issue of indecency on broadcast TV, which exploded following the 2004 Super Bowl Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction." Though the event was before he took over the commission, it became a continuing issue. He eventually ordered agency staffers to refocus enforcement efforts to target only the most "egregious" of the more than 1.5 million pending complaints

Whoever succeeds Genachowski will have to manage topics such as slow broadband connections and a shortage of public airwaves. Tom Wheeler, managing director of Core Capital Partners and a former president of at different times the National Cable Television Association and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, has been often mentioned as most likely to be tapped by Obama as Genachowski's replacement.

Almost as soon as the reports of Genachowski's impending resignation hit the web, statements started coming in, the initial ones not so favorable to the chairman.

Said Free Press CEO Craig Aaron: "When Julius Genachowski took office, there were high hopes that he would use his powerful position to promote the public interest. But instead of acting as the people's champion, he’s catered to corporate interests. His tenure has been marked by wavering and caving rather than the strong leadership so needed at this crucial agency.

“Genachowski claimed broadband was his agency's top priority, but he stood by as prices rose and competition dwindled. He claimed to be a staunch defender of the open Internet, but his Net Neutrality policies are full of loopholes and offer no guarantee that the FCC will be able to protect consumers from corporate abuse in the future."

Said public-interest group Public Knowledge: "The Chairman deserves credit for defending both the Commission’s data roaming rules and unlicensed spectrum, for permitting DISH Network to provide terrestrial wireless service, and for releasing the staff report that helped to end AT&T’s attempted takeover of T-Mobile. But it remains to be seen whether those positive steps will mitigate the enormous consolidation that has taken place in the broadband marketplace under his watch. 

"We urge the President to appoint a new FCC Chair who will put the public interest first, and who will restore the agency’s ability to protect the values so critical to our communications system and to our democracy."

Before Genachowski's selection, Wheeler had been mentioned as a possible candidate for FCC chairman.

Prior to joining the commission, Genachowski served as chairperson of the Technology, media and Telecommunications Policy Working Group for Obama’s 2008 election campaign.

He is the former chief of business operations at Barry Diller’s IAC and has served on the boards of directors of Expedia, Hotels.com and Ticketmaster.

Sharon Waxman contributed to this report.