Federal Communications Commission Julius Genachowski formally announced his resignation Friday, becoming the latest member of President Obama’s original cabinet officials and department heads to call it quits after four years.
Genachowski told the FCC staff he will depart “in the coming weeks,” thus leaving before his term expires on June 30.
He offered little information about future plans, saying only, “I look forward to ongoing engagement in this sector.”
Genachowski cited the gains during his four years as FCC chairman, including efforts to provide broadband to more consumers and to expand spectrum available for mobile platforms.
“We have taken big steps,” said Genachowski. “You can take pride in that we have taken major action to open doors. Thanks to your work the broadband economy is thriving.”
He also pointed to net neutrality as one of the gains. “To fuel America’s innovation economy, we put in place the first rules to preserve internet freedom and openness,” he said.
In a statement following the announcement, President Obama — a longtime close friend of Genachowski — thanked the chairman for bringing to the FCC "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."
Genachowski's announcement Friday also means that the FCC will almost certainly act swiftly to alter its media-ownership rules — before both Genachowski and Republican Robert McDowell, who also resigned this week, depart.
The FCC rules detail how many radio and TV stations any one company can own in a market and how many of those owned can be for major networks.
Changes are expected to remove the current ban on newspapers and TV stations buying each other in a market. The FCC has also been considering whether to ban or impose limits when separately owned stations in a market are controlled by one company.
In his closing comments, Genachowski pointed to changes at the FCC under his stewardship.
He said the FCC modernized “universal service” rules originally written to ensure that low-income households had telephones and adequate access to the internet.
He also said the FCC had developed “cutting edge” programs to free up spectrum space for mobile use.
Finally, he pointed to the FCC’s careful review of mergers.
“To drive competition and empower consumers, we opposed and modified transactions where necessary, deployed technology to drive transparency and took unprecedented enforcement actions.”
Genachowski said he and Democratic and Republican commissioners “achieved reforms people thought impossible.”
“I believed from Day One that working together we could get big things done for our country, and thanks to you we have,” he told the staff.
“Over the past four years, we have focused the FCC on broadband and wireless working to drive economic growth and improve the lives of all Americans. Thanks to you the commission’s employees, we have taken big steps to build a future where broadband is ubiquitous and bandwidth is abundant, where innovation and investment are flourishing,” he said.
Almost as soon as the reports of Genachowski's impending resignation hit the web, statements started coming in.
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, praised Genachowski: "He has transformed and energized the agency. Under his leadership, the FCC protected consumer access to the free and open internet, preserved and expanded wireless competition, and reformed the broken universal service and intercarrier compensation system … I thank him for his service, congratulate him on his accomplishments, and wish him well in his future endeavors.”
On the other side, 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."
Added 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."
Though the departure of Genachowski, a friend of the president since their college days, has been widely expected, the announcement quickly set off jockeying for Genachowski’s replacement.
Early out of the gate was the Women’s Media Center, whose members include Geena Davis, Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem and Terry Lawler, executive director of New York Women in Film & Television, said it had sent a letter Friday to President Obama again urging he appoint a woman to the post.
However, 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.