What makes him powerful: Nominated by President Bush to be an FCC commissioner in 2001 and appointed chairman in 2005, Martin has steered the legislative policies that shape the wireless industry during one of the most pivotal and transformative eras of its existence. Following in the wake of previous FCC Chairman Michael Powell, Martin's tenure stretches from the merger of Sprint and Nextel to the current proposed merger of Verizon Wireless and Alltel, and throughout that time he has consistently proven a controversial figure (a seeming prerequisite of the job), facing criticism from his opponents for his shadowy, even secretive approach to determining critical policy decisions. Which makes it all the more ironic that the introduction of open access requirements into this spring's 700 MHz spectrum auction could prove the defining moment of his tenure.
Martin presided over the auction, which wound up netting the federal government a cool $20 billion. Verizon Wireless was arguably the biggest winner, muscling past Google with a $4.7 billion bid for the much-coveted C-block, but Google was by no means the loser. The web services juggernaut later revealed it only entered the auction to drive up the bidding and in doing so guarantee the FCC would attach certain open access requirements, setting the stage for its fledgling mobile operating system Android to enter the U.S. marketplace. The auction also set into motion Martin's announcement that the commission would deny Skype's petition to apply the so-called "Carterphone" rules enacted in the 1960s to mobile, arguing it would be premature for the commission to add more requirements to wireless carriers now that so many operators have started embracing a more open environment.
Issues currently on Martin's plate include the fate of the D-block, which has been envisioned for use as a national network for first responders. The FCC is still in the process of deciding how that network will run, but in September the commission agreed to new guidelines for a possible D-block auction. Martin also has a few other items on his agenda that may or may not be resolved before the November elections: Most notable is the debate over white-space, the empty spectrum between broadcast spectrum that some companies like Google and Microsoft want to see made available for unlicensed wireless applications. Martin has not said when a decision would come on that, but remarked he would like to make a decision before the end of the year. The aforementioned Verizon/Alltel merger is also a hot-button issue, and while negotiations are still ongoing, all indications are that Martin and the FCC will approve the deal before the end of the year. It's still too early to determine Martin's legacy, but there's no question his fingerprints are all over the wireless landscape.