WASHINGTON, March 22 (Reuters) - Julius Genachowski said on Friday he will step down as chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in the coming weeks, ending a four-year tenure at the agency that focused on expanding broadband Internet service to Americans.
In remarks to FCC staffers, Genachowski did not give a date for his widely expected exit or specify his plans after he leaves the agency. His term at FCC, which oversees telecommunications and broadcast companies, was due to end in June.
Genachowski’s successor as FCC chief has not been named.
“I didn’t ask you today to say goodbye. ... We’ll be working together a little while longer,” Genachowski told a room filled with more than a hundred agency staffers. “As far as we’ve come, and I know we all feel this, our agency can’t rest on its laurels. We can’t let up on the gas pedal.”
“It’s a bittersweet moment right now,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a fellow Democrat on the panel, after the staffers gave a standing ovation to Genachowski’s remarks.
The FCC also is losing its senior Republican commissioner, Robert McDowell, who on Wednesday said he would depart his post in a few weeks. That would leave the five-member panel with two Democrats and one Republican with two vacancies.
Genachowski had advised President Barack Obama on telecommunications policy before his FCC appointment in 2009.
He oversaw an overhaul of the multibillion-dollar Universal Service Fund from a project to spread telephone service in rural America to one focused on broadcast access. He also spearheaded the creation of a strategy known as the National Broadband Plan and later pushed Internet providers to step up the speediness of their services.
Genachowski presided over the FCC’s rejection of a landmark 2011 merger bid between No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier AT&T Inc and fourth-largest provider T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche Telekom. The bid was dropped after the Justice Department sued to block the deal.
Among Genachowski’s biggest projects was the first-ever “incentive” auction of wireless spectrum, planned for 2014 and now to be handled by his successor.
The plan is to take airwaves back from TV stations and auction them off to wireless companies offering mobile data services or open them up for shared use. The broadcasters would get part of the proceeds and the rest would pay for a public-safety program and go to the U.S. Treasury.