Hundt, 49, said he is leaving to spend more time with his family and write a book on his experiences at the communications agency. "My children are growing up," the chairman said at a press conference.
Hundt, whose term would have ended June 30, 1998, was expected to resign some time before then, but not this soon. He will continue to vote as a commissioner and serve as FCC chairman until President Clinton appoints a successor. No names of potential successors have yet emerged.
Hundt's resignation is part of a shakeup among the FCC's five commissioners, whose terms are all due to end soon. The vacancies could give the White House and Congress an opportunity to change the focus of the agency that oversees communications such as wireless, broadcast, cable, satellite, and cellular services.
President Clinton today nominated two individuals, William Kennard and Harold Furchtgott-Roth, to the FCC board of commissioners. Sources say a third, Michael Powell, also would be nominated.
Powell is the son of retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Kennard is general counsel of the FCC, while Furchtgott-Roth is chief economist for the House Commerce Committee, which is responsible for telecommunications.
Hundt said he was proud of his record at the FCC. "In the past three years, this commission has put the ball in the net more often than not," he said. "We have completely rewritten the rules for all five lanes of the information highway: telephony, wireless, satellite, cable, and broadcasting."
He denied rumors that he was preparing to join the legal team of Microsoft.
Hundt said he has voted on 1,500 items during his term in office and pointed to increased numbers of computers and Internet access in the nation's classrooms as one of his biggest accomplishments.
"This FCC has done more for K-12 education than the federal government has ever done before, with the sole exception of the school lunch program," Hundt said.
Hundt and the FCC allocated up to $2.25 billion a year to subsidize Net access for disadvantaged schools and libraries earlier this month. The nation's rural health care providers will have access to as much as $400 million a year to help pay for Net connections with speeds equivalent to that of a T1 line.
Other observers said much work still needs to be done to make Net access affordable for everyone, not just schools and libraries.
Even Hundt, the first FCC chairman ever to log on the Net, admitted that he wasn't initially prepared to deal with the myriad questions to arise from the Internet. "We all went out there to learn how to surf and got hit with the tidal wave of the century," he said.
Some industry groups are hoping that Clinton will appoint someone with a strong awareness of such issues.
"There is so much that remains to be done in this area that we hope that the new chairperson will be familiar with and appreciate the importance of Internet access," said Paul Misener of Intel, who is chairman of the Internet Access Coalition, a coalition of ISPs and computer companies.
Misener added: "We still need broadband consumer communications--they simply aren't [widely] available today."
Added David McClure, executive director of the Association of Online Professionals: "Congress may now try to change the focus of the FCC through the two and three appointments that will be made this year."
Another major issue still unresolved is a standard video format for digital television displays. The computer industry and consumer electronics are fighting over which format to use.
Hundt's resignation "could help the computer industry, which has really been trying to build alliances in Washington," said Wen Liao, senior analyst with Jupiter Communications.
Hundt's book is entitled, You Say You Want a Revolution: How Communications Can Change the World.
Internet editor Jeff Pelline contributed to this report.