FCC Chairman Powell announces resignation

His four-year term was dominated by deregulation and indecency debates.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell announced Friday he will leave the agency in March, ending a tumultuous four-year term that focused on deregulation and indecency on the airwaves.

During his tenure, Powell completed rules regarding telecommunications competition, promoted the transition to digital television, resolved the conflict over interference between police department radios and some cellular phones, and promoted new technologies such as Internet telephony.

Powell also dramatically expanded the amount of spectrum devoted to unlicensed wireless communication, attempted to free cable modem service from tight regulation and stepped up enforcement of laws against "indecent" content on television and radio.

As part of the transition to digital television, the FCC required an anti-piracy technology called the "broadcast flag" and sanctioned other content protection measures on cable television. Powell also attempted to loosen the rules limiting how many media outlets one company could own in any city. But lawmakers have tinkered with the rules and an appellate court has delayed implementation.

His resignation comes at a time when lawmakers and courts are reviewing major telecommunications issues. The FCC's cable modem ruling was overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the Supreme Court is reviewing that decision.

Powell started at the FCC as a President Clinton appointee to one of the GOP seats, and President Bush named him chairman. Possible successors include Michael Gallagher, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the Commerce Department; FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin; Janice Obuchowski, a telecom consultant who served in the Commerce Department under former President George H.W. Bush, and Becky Klein, a former head of the Texas Public Utility Commission who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2004.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., who chairs the Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, commended Powell's efforts to deregulate the telecommunications industry and crack down on broadcasters who air indecent material. Stearns also lauded Powell's role in relaxing media ownership restrictions.

"It was a difficult job that often made him a target for criticism, but I believe that Chairman Powell's leadership on many of these issues will serve the industry and American consumers very well in the years to come," Stearns said.

Michael Calabrese, vice president and director of spectrum policy at the New America Foundation, said Powell left "one significant positive legacy" by encouraging open access to the public airwaves for high-speed Internet services.

"On most other issues, however, Powell's tenure has radically changed the nation's media and telecom policy direction in ways that damage both our economy and our democracy," Calabrese said.

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