Sources close to the Obama transition team confirmed this week that President-Elect Obama intends to nominate his telecom policy advisor, Julius Genachowski, to replace Kevin Martin as the next chairman of the FCC. A Democrat, Genachowski is a former Harvard Law School classmate of the soon-to-be president and played a lead role in the development of online strategy for the Obama campaign, which used social networking and other online tools to spread the candidate’s message and to raise funds. Genachowski also boasts extensive experience with telecom and mediarelated issues, having served as chief counsel to former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, a senior executive at Barry Diller’s IAC/Interactive Corporation, and co-founder of venture capital firm Rock Creek Ventures, an investor in digital media companies. If confirmed, Genachowski—an advocate of net neutrality—would assume the reins of an agency that is poised to gain more power than ever to shape the nation’s economy, particularly as the Obama Administration is expected to emphasize the expansion of broadband and Internet services as part of its upcoming economic stimulus package. Genachowski would also be confronted immediately with the challenges of next month’s digital television (DTV) switch-over which, the Obama transition team is seeking to delay. Though still unofficial, the nomination drew wide praise. As Hundt observed that Genachowski “would be the first FCC nominee ever who has been a tech executive, a venture capitalist and an entrepreneur,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (DWV) proclaimed: “there is no question that . . . Genachowski has the experience and credentials to successfully reinvigorate the FCC.”  

Meanwhile, FCC Chairman Martin confirmed plans yesterday to step down from the agency upon Obama’s inauguration on January 20. The announcement marks the end of an eight-year FCC career for Martin, who started at the agency as a staffer and later ascended to the roles of commissioner and chairman. During his four-year tenure as chairman, Martin ushered in the era of wireless broadband with last year’s record-setting auction of 700 MHz wireless spectrum and with the adoption of rules that would open DTV “white space” channels to WiFi and other unlicensed wireless devices. Martin also worked to ease the agency’s media ownership regime, to tighten the agency’s broadcast indecency policies, and to promote network open access for wireless devices. Upon his departure, Martin will join the Aspen Institute, a telecom policy think-tank that has boasted several former FCC chairmen among its alumni. As NAB President David Rehr lauded Martin’s “intellect and . . . belief in the lifeline role played by local broadcasters,” US Telecom President Walter McCormick declared: “the state of U.S. broadband is better for [Martin’s] leadership and his pro-investment policies.”