In a hastily called, and Internet-streamed, meeting of agency staffers because word leaked out last night, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced this morning he will leave his job “in the coming weeks,” echoing a decision made earlier this week by Commissioner Robert McDowell (CTDaily, 03/20/13). Thanking his fellow commissioners and the agency at large, he cited the FCC’s success in “build(ing) a future where broadband is ubiquitous and bandwidth is abundant, where innovation and investment are flourishing.” The chairman made no secret he wants to continue to be a player in the communications space, but he offered no tidbits as to where he might end up. The announcement got the replacement rumor mill grinding anew, but with the same names: Larry Strickling and Tom Wheeler. But in a letter signed by 26 prominent women who head special-interest groups (including Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, Eleanor Smeal and Sandra Finley) and delivered to the White House earlier today, President Obama was asked once again to put a woman in charge, because it’s payback time. “While there is no easy fix to getting women into the top jobs in the telecom and media industries, the government watchdog can and should be headed by a woman,” they wrote. “You earned the majority of the women’s vote because you represented views on issues from violence against women to pay equity. In your second term you can demonstrate your commitment to equality in leadership in a different but equally important area of the federal government, oversight of the media and telecom industries.”

The Buzz

>> President Barack Obama: “Over the last four years, Julius has brought 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.  I am grateful for his service and friendship, and I wish Julius the best of luck.”

>> Grant Seiffert, president, TIA: “Chairman Genachowski has been a leader when it comes to advancing broadband access, addressing the spectrum crunch and improving first responder communications…His work over the last several years have benefited American consumers and helped our industry continue to create jobs and advance economic growth.”
 
>> Michael Powell, president/CEO, NCTA: “Chairman Genachowski wisely believed that ubiquitous Internet connectivity would be the defining technology of our day, and his leadership has ensured that America’s robust wired and wireless broadband networks are world class. The entire cable industry is grateful to Chairman Genachowski for his exceptional leadership.”

>> Matthew M. Polka, president/CEO, American Cable Association: “ACA deeply appreciates that Chairman Genachowski recognized that the independent cable community is central to advancing the goal of universal and affordable broadband access, especially in rural and remote areas that are some of the most economically challenging to serve. ACA also notes that Chairman Genachowski decided to examine the broken retransmission consent regime at a time when broadcasters are blacking out pay-TV providers at a record pace and straining the limits of their duty to negotiate in good faith.”

>> Rob Atkinson, president, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation: "During (Chairman Genachowski’s) tenure, the United States has made major advances in the speed of our broadband networks and expanded the deployment of next-generation broadband technology. In addition, (he) has been a leader in addressing the digital divide – the major factor holding back America’s digital progress – creating innovative educational partnerships such as Connect2Compete, which seeks to enhance broadband adoption and digital literacy.”

>> Eric Einhorn, senior vice president/Government Affairs and Strategy, Windstream: At Windstream, we are particularly appreciative of Chairman Genachowski’s keen focus on the crucial task of expanding access to broadband services in high-cost rural areas…Much work remains to achieve ubiquitous broadband access in rural America, but the chairman has raised the issue’s public profile and will leave in place a framework that puts the nation on a realistic path toward that worthy goal by leveraging increased public funding with private investment.”

Women’s Groups March 22 Letter to President Obama in its entirety:

Dear Mr. President,

We’re writing to make sure that with all that crosses your desk, you see a piece of good news. The best qualified candidates to chair the Federal Communications Commission are all women. You will be able make good policy and good history at the same time.

You have the chance to democratize the media with one key appointment when you nominate the next Chair of the Federal Communications Commission. We are writing to urge you to pick a woman.

This would be a truly historic appointment. There has never been a female chair of the Federal Communications Commission and a woman chair would go far to making women more visible and powerful in the media and technology.

As we step into 2013, women are still underrepresented in the leadership of America’s media and its technology industries. Women hold only 6 percent of all TV and radio station licenses and under one-third of TV news directors are women. Of top executives working for technology companies just over 5 percent are women. Media companies have some of the most powerful resources at their disposal in shaping attitudes and culture. And as the Internet transforms American media and telecommunications, it has become central to the nation’s competitiveness as well as the future of culture, news, and communication.

A number of well-qualified candidates are reported by The National Journal to be under consideration for the top job at the FCC, including  former OECD Ambassador, Karen Kornbluh, current FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, Clinton administration FCC executives Susan Ness and Cathy Sandoval.

While there is no easy fix to getting women into the top jobs in the telecom and media industries, the government watchdog can and should be headed by a woman.  The FCC holds broad regulatory power over the most important media, communications, and technology companies in the United States. Plus, there is a powerful "bully pulpit" effect to having women at the head of this agency.

You earned the majority of the women’s vote because you represented views on issues from violence against women to pay equity. In your second term you can demonstrate your commitment to equality in leadership in a different but equally important area of the federal government, oversight of the media and telecom industries.

The FCC’s broad regulatory authority over huge swaths of the U.S. economy makes it a very powerful government agency and over the next year it will face a series of critical decision points – from how to structure a complex wireless spectrum auction to how to respond to an anticipated decision in a legal challenge over its authority to enforce its “Open Internet” rules. In addition, it must decide how to help improve broadband speed, service, and pricing in the United States when its rules are under pressure from industry.  In the late 1990s the US had the highest broadband speeds and penetration rates of almost anywhere but today the U.S. comes in sixteenth and the average U.S. cost per megabit per second is several times that in South Korea, France, and the UK.

The next FCC chair must be someone who is willing to put the public’s interests first and work to ensure that American businesses and workers have the tools they need to ensure U.S. competitiveness in the 21st century.  Consumers want an independent FCC chair – not an industry insider – but someone who is willing to put the needs of consumers over the desires of industry executives.

The identity and personal experience of a regulatory chief matters. William Kennard, for example, who was appointed the first African-American chair of the agency by President Bill Clinton, made a top priority of closing the digital divide for African-Americans and for Americans with disabilities. Never in the 80 years of the FCC has a woman of any race or group been its chair, though women have been the nation’s majority for a long time.

The post atop the FCC is one of the most important opportunities available to raise the bar for representational diversity and decision-making in the media and telecom sectors, which are the infrastructure of this generation and of the future.

This petition has already been signed by activists from across the country who agree with us that the time is now for the FCC to be headed by a woman. The time is now. 

Most Respectfully,

Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, President & CEO of She Should Run
Julie Burton, President of The Women’s Media Center
Melanie Campbell, ?CEO & Executive Director of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
Geena Davis, Founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Margot Dorfman, ?CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce
Madeline Di Nonno, ?Executive Director of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Lauren Embrey, Chair of the Board of The Women’s Media Center
Gloria Feldt, Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director & CEO of MomsRising
Sandra Finley, ?President & CEO of the League of Black Women
Jane Fonda, Co-Founder of The Women’s Media Center
Kim Gandy, President & CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence
Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, President and CEO of Black Women’s Health Imperative
Shelby Knox, Director of Women’s Rights Campaigns for Change.org
Terry Lawler, Executive Director of New York Women in Film & Television
Pat Mitchell, President and CEO of The Paley Center for Media
Robin Morgan, Co-Founder of The Women’s Media Center
Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization for Women Foundation
Anika Rahman, President & CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women
Susan Scanlan, Chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations
Karen See, President of the Coalition of Labor Union Women
Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation
Katherine Spillar, Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine
Gloria Steinem, Co-Founder of The Women’s Media Center
Dee Strum, National President of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women
Linda Young, Chair of the National Women’s Political Caucus

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