Chairman Powell to Step Down

Just one day after the presidential inauguration, Michael Powell has announced that he will step down from his post as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March.

Powell, who has been FCC chairman since 2001, reportedly has been unhappy with the commission’s direction, and industry watchers had predicted that he would resign before the end of his term in 2007 (see EuroFiber Picks Wavium Optical Switches and FCC's Powell to Resign... Someday).

In his announcement, Powell noted that during his tenure the Commission “worked to get the law right in order to stimulate innovative technology that puts more power in the hands of the American people, giving them greater choices that enrich their lives.”

There's no doubt that moral conservatives, big media conglomerates, VOIP providers, and incumbent telephone companies will miss Chairman Powell's easygoing approach to regulating new technologies and media mega-mergers, while bringing the hammer down on radio and TV broadcasters for what the Commission considers to be indecent material.

Powell will be missed by the editors of Light Reading as well, given that he is one of the few political figures who has consistently tossed out reams of memorable quotes while locking horns with his colleagues, competitive carriers, and fiber access opponents the world over. (See 2004 Top Ten: Notable Quotes, FCC Access Ruling Puzzles, FCC: Back to the Drawing Board, FCC Rumbles on the Rules , FCC Chairman Explains 'Sideshow', 2003 Top Ten: Words of Wisdom, FCC Suggestion Spurs (More) Conflict, and The Five Stooges.)

Table 1: Michael Powell: In His Own Words
Subject Statement
Janet Jackson on the Boob Tube �I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show of the Super Bowl. Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass, and deplorable stunt. Our nation�s children, parents, and citizens deserve better."
VOIP Services "Without a doubt, VOIP will revolutionize the way consumers work and play. The choice for us as policy makers is to create the kind of environment where these changes can flourish."
Free-Flowing Fiber "By removing unbundling obligations for fiber-based technologies, today�s decision holds great promise for consumers, the telecommunications sector, and the American economy."
Broadband Over [Giggle] Powerline "The future is bright for powerline broadband. We�ll continue at the FCC to explore ways to support this technology while protecting other services from interference.�
Nepotism "I think it's a cheap shot to say just because my father is famous, I don't belong in my position."
Source: FCC statements and KGO Radio (San Francisco)

“We hope that his successor will share his wisdom and vision to further enable America to lead the way in revolutionizing the way people communicate,” deadpans Jeff Pulver, CEO of Pulver.com. With Powell’s resignation, many see this as a prime opportunity for President Bush to show, by his choice of replacement, what direction he plans to take the telecom industry in the next four years. The five-member commission currently has a majority of Republican-leaning members (Powell, Kathleen Abernathy, and Kevin Martin), but the Democratic minority (Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein) has won support from Martin on some key votes.

In a statement, Commissioner Abernathy praised Powell for his work reforming spectrum allocation rules, improving public safety communications, and for several consumer initiatives, including the do-not-call registry, and wireless local number portability. Abernathy says Powell’s departure from the agency will “be a tremendous loss for the American people,” and that she had not "encountered anyone as talented and dedicated to the public good as Michael Powell." [Ed. note: She's being serious. We think.] With numerous regulatory issues facing the telecom industry over the next four years, including a thorough revision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Bush’s appointment could have a far-reaching effect. Those being discussed as Powell's possible replacement reportedly include Becky Klein, former Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Texas; FCC Commissioner Martin; and Assistant Commerce Secretary Michael D. Gallagher.

— Chris Somerville, Senior Editor, Next-Generation Services

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