The departure of Julius Genachowski as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has some public interest groups hoping his successor will fight harder for consumers against the growing clout of telecommunications giants.
On Friday, Genachowski, a former venture capitalist and technology executive, said he would step down in the coming weeks after nearly four years on the job.
He said his biggest accomplishment was focusing the agency on expanding high-speed Internet access. For example, he pushed the FCC to make more public airwaves available to deliver the Internet over smartphones and other mobile devices.
"Three years ago, the U.S. mobile market was on the doorstep of duopoly. It would have been bad for the American innovation economy and bad for consumers," said Genachowski, who helped derail AT&T Inc.'s proposed $39-billion purchase of T-Mobile USA Inc. in 2011.
"Today we're seeing revitalized competitors and stronger competition in the sector," he said.
Consumer advocates acknowledged that Genachowski deserved credit for helping block the AT&T-T-Mobile deal. But some leading public interest groups said the FCC under Genachowski approved other mergers that have reduced competition.
In the end, he didn't fulfill their hopes for a tough regulator when he was appointed the first Democratic FCC chairman in eight years. And he will leave without resolving such major issues as the limits of media ownership in major markets.
"He didn't use the power of the office to really challenge the biggest companies," said Craig Aaron, president of the group Free Press. "He sort of saw himself as a referee to just negotiate between them."
Still, Genachowski worked on some longtime thorny issues that didn't get widespread attention.
For instance, he engineered the FCC's 2011 overhaul of the $8-billion Universal Service Fund. The fund, paid for by fees on consumer phone bills, provided subsidies for phone service to rural and low-income households. The FCC refocused the fund on providing subsidies for high-speed Internet service.
Genachowski drew praise from President Obama, fellow commissioners and industry groups.
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