The FCC soon could feature a 3-1 Democratic majority now that Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell is leaving the agency.
But that majority could dwindle to a 2-1 if Chairman Julius Genachowski also steps down, as industry observers expect he will.
The changes come as McDowell on Wednesday announced he will step down "in a few weeks." McDowell's departure then clears the way for Genachowski, whom President Obama appointed four years ago, to also vacate his post, which insiders say he's ready to do.
McDowell has served on the FCC since May 2006; he was nominated by President George W. Bush. McDowell joined from COMPTEL, where he was working as one of the association's lead attorneys.
On Wednesday, Genachowski called McDowell "essential" to the FCC's actions such as universal service and intercarrier compensation reform, as well as efforts to free up spectrum.
“Rob’s thoughtful engagement in commission policy has always improved the quality of our work," Genachowski said in a prepared statement.
Meantime, if Genachowski resigns as predicted, his successor likely will not come from within the FCC, according to analysts at Stifel Nicolaus Telecom Equity Research.
"The White House seems to be looking at nominating an outsider to become chairman, with Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist and former head of the wireless and cable industry trade groups, the apparent front-runner," analysts wrote in a March 20 memo to clients. "Others apparently in the mix include: Karen Kornbluh, a former aide to then-Sen. Obama; Assistant Secretary of Commerce Larry Strickling, the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; and California regulator Catherine Sandoval."
The catch is that an outside pick would face Senate confirmation, a process that could take weeks or months.
"So if Chairman Genachowski leaves before a nominee is confirmed, President Obama could immediately name one of the two sitting Democratic commissioners as acting chairwoman, and we assume it would likely be Mignon Clyburn, given her seniority," Stifel analysts wrote.