The appointee, William Kennard, is currently the FCC's general counsel and was nominated by Clinton for an empty commissioner's seat in May. "The president today announced his intent to designate Kennard as chair upon his confirmation as a commissioner," said FCC spokesman David Fiske.
Appointed by Clinton in 1993, Hundt, 49, said he is leaving to spend more time with his family and write a book on his experiences at the communications agency.
Sometime after returning from summer recess in September, the Senate Commerce Committee is expected to hold confirmation hearings for Kennard, as well as Michael Powell and Harold Furchtgott-Roth, who also were nominated for commissioner's seats.
Powell was official nominated today, but the appointment had been rumored since May. Powell, a Republican, is the son of retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Furchtgott-Roth, who was nominated in May, is chief economist for the House Commerce Committee, which is responsible for telecommunications.
If Kennard is confirmed by the Senate, his tenure as commissioner will last until 2001.
Kennard is a well-respected communications lawyer who has worked well with Hundt, sources say. His office at the FCC helped implement the sweeping 1996 telecommunications deregulation act. Kennard also provided counsel on the universal service provision mandated by last year's telephone industry reform, which provides schools and low-income and rural areas with advanced phone and Net services.
On May 7, the FCC enacted this plan, which allocated up to $2.25 billion a year to subsidize discounted Net access for schools and libraries. But the plan also drew fire from some Internet service providers because it levied new charges for residents and businesses with additional phone lines. ISPs have hundreds or thousands of lines and will pay up to $4 for each extra line they use.
"Kennard's reputation is rather strong, and it's likely he'll be approved for the post," said David McClure, executive director of the Association of Online Professionals, which fought the extra phone line charges.
"He generally favors free markets with as little regulation as possible," McClure added. "The FCC's internal office of plans and policy really sets the tone for policies that affect the Net. But overall, Kennard's past positions indicate that he'll probably be friendly to the online industry."
Other Washington observers agree. "All the new appointees need to recognize the dire need to provide Americans with affordable PC communications services. I've heard a couple of speeches where Kennard had clearly recognized this need," said Paul Misener of Intel, who serves as chairman of the Internet Access Coalition's steering committee.
Another federal regulatory agency that tackles Net issues, the Federal Trade Commission, is also waiting to fill an empty seat.
Yesterday was Clinton appointee Christine Varney's last day as an FTC commissioner. Since joining the agency in 1994, she has led FTC probes into online privacy issues and Net fraud.
The White House hasn't submitted a new nominee since Varney announced in July that she was resigning. The White House is still waiting on confirmation of another appointee, Sheila Foster Anthony, an attorney who has worked for the Justice Department specializing in international issues. Anthony was nominated in January to replace Republican Janet Steiger, who has continued to serve after her term ended in September of 1995.
FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky has promised to keep issues such as protecting surfers' privacy and preventing Net scams high on the commission's agenda. He said Anthony will be well received.
"More of our issues concern international transactions now, which include the Internet," Pitofsky said today. "I don't how tech-savvy [Anthony] is, but you can't be here now without knowing about the high-tech industry and the Internet."
Varney's Net expertise will be missed, he added. "It's a great loss when it comes to the high-tech issues, which we increasingly see. She was the most knowledgeable of the group. A lot of what we achieved can be seen from her taking the lead."