Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said Jan. 14 he would resign as chief of the agency effective Jan. 20, the same day President-elect Barack Obama is sworn into office. Obama plans to nominate Julius Genachowski, Obama's chief campaign technology adviser, as the next FCC chairman, according to a number of media reports.
Martin, a lightning rod for controversy during his four-year tenure as FCC chairman, could have stayed on at the agency as a commissioner, but he instead chose to accept a senior fellowship at the Aspen Institute, in Washington. Martin was appointed to a Republican seat on the FCC by President Bush in 2001 and designated chairman by Bush in 2005.
Martin said in a statement his philosophy at the FCC "has been to pursue deregulation while paying close attention to its impact on consumers and the particulars of a given market, to balance deregulation with consumer protection." Martin added that he "approached his decisions with a fundamental belief that a robust, competitive marketplace, not regulation, is ultimately the best protector of the public interest and the best method of delivering the benefits of choice, innovation and affordability to American consumers."
Trying to balance those varied interests during his tenure as chairman often made him the target of criticism from industry interests and consumer groups alike. Martin angered telecommunications companies by imposing open network mandates on the winner of the 700MHz spectrum auction held in 2008. Broadcasters opposed the FCC's approval of the unlicensed use of the "white spaces" between digital television signals.
Technology companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft applauded the decisions. At the same time, those companies and consumer and public advocacy groups groused that under Martin's direction America's broadband penetration has continued to tumble in global rankings.
Martin has also drawn criticism for opposing the expansion of the FCC's network neutrality rules or the need for network neutrality legislation, insisting that the FCC has the authority and the willpower to enforce the agency's network neutrality "principles."
"I have consistently opposed calls for legislation or rules to impose network neutrality," Martin said in August. "Like many other policy makers and members of Congress, I have said such legislation or rules are unnecessary, because the Commission already has the tools it needs to punish a bad actor."
In August, the FCC said cable giant Comcast violated the agency's Internet policy when it blocked peer-to-peer traffic by BitTorrent. The agency also found that Comcast misled consumers when it did not properly disclose its P2P policy. The FCC ordered Comcast to stop blocking traffic, disclose to the FCC the full extent of its traffic practices and keep the public informed of its future network management plans.
Comcast has appealed the decision, contending that the FCC doesn't have regulatory authority to impose its principles.
In the Comcast decision, Martin angered Republicans when he teamed with Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein to win the 3-2 vote. Republicans Robert McDowell and Deborah Taylor Tate opposed the measure.
Yet it was Democrats who found the most fault with Martin. In December, congressional Democrats released a report titled "Deception and Distrust: The Federal Communications Commission Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin" (PDF) that was prompted by allegations that Martin manipulated or suppressed information to foster his own agenda, particularly his interest in forcing cable companies to offer a la carte programming.
The investigation also found that Martin hadn't handled FCC affairs in an open and transparent manner and the report accused Martin of creating a climate of distrust, suspicion and turmoil among the five members of the FCC.
"Our investigation confirmed a number of troubling allegations raised by individuals in and outside the FCC," Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said in a statement. "The Committee staff report details some of the most egregious abuses of power, suppression of information and manipulation of data under Chairman Martin's leadership."
Robert Kenney, an FCC spokesperson, promptly downplayed the investigation.
"It appears that the [House Energy and Commerce] Committee did not find or conclude that there were any violations of rules, laws or procedures following a yearlong investigation," Kenney said. "Chairman Martin has followed the same procedures that have been followed for the past 20 years by FCC chairmen, Democrat and Republican alike."