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Powell leaving FCC
Chairman announces resignation to pursue unnamed opportunities; led fights on obscenity, ownership.
January 21, 2005: 1:50 PM EST
FCC Chairman Michael Powell
FCC Chairman Michael Powell
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell submitted his resignation and will leave in March, the FCC announced Friday.

Powell, a member of the FCC since November 1998 and the chairman since early 2001, said in his statement that he is proud of changes in FCC rules and regulations made during his tenure.

Powell has been a high-profile chairman of what had generally been a quiet regulatory agency. He has pushed for increased fines for obscenity and indecent content by the nation's broadcasters and backed a change in media ownership rules that allowed for greater consolidation by the industry's largest conglomerates.

In September the FCC fined Viacom (Research), which owns CBS, $550,000 for the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show in which Janet Jackson's breast was briefly revealed during a musical number. The media conglomerate is challenging that fine.

Viacom agreed in November to pay a record $3.5 million to settle a number of complaints involving alleged indecent comments on its radio stations, including remarks by its most popular radio personality, Howard Stern.

Partly to get away from FCC oversight, Stern has signed a contract to move to satellite radio provider Sirius (Research) in 2006. On his show Friday, before the official announcement, Stern cheered reports that Powell would be leaving.

"Thank God he's gone," he said. "This is a great day in broadcasting."

Who's next?

The New York Times reported on its Web site Friday that replacements for Powell being considered by the Bush administration include Kevin Martin, one of the other Republican members of the five-member FCC; Becky Klein, a former head of the public utility commission in Texas; Patrick Wood III, the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and Michael Gallagher, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the Commerce Department.

Martin has been somewhat more conservative than Powell. In the Super Bowl halftime decision, Martin wrote a separate opinion that the FCC should have investigated complaints about the alleged lewdness of the entire halftime show, not just the brief exposure of Jackson's breast.

Powell was originally appointed to the FCC by President Clinton before being given the lead of the agency by President Bush. The Atlanta Journal Constitution speculated late last year that he may be interested in a run for governor of Virginia, although Powell declined to comment on his plans when questioned several times last year.

Not all the controversies involving Powell have been on high profile issues such as obscenity and media ownership. He has pushed to shift TV stations from the current analog broadcasting spectrum they've used since the invention of television onto more efficient digital broadcasting.

But station owners have balked at making the investment necessary for the change before many viewers have the televisions that can receive the new signals. Powell conceded in September Congressional testimony that the 2006 deadline is likely to be pushed back to 2009.

He was also blocked in efforts to deregulate the local phone market.

The statement from the FCC included seven pages of accomplishments during Powell's tenure, including setting up a "Do-Not-Call" list to block phone solicitations, the ability of cell phone users to keep their phone numbers when they changed providers and the increased availability of wireless Internet connections in homes, offices and coffee shops.

"During my tenure, we 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," said Powell in his statement. "Evidence of our success can be seen increasingly in the offices, the automobiles and the living rooms of the American consumer. The seeds of our policies are taking firm root in the marketplace and are starting to blossom."

Powell is the son of Colin Powell, the retiring Secretary of State. Before joining the FCC, Powell served as chief of staff of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, and as a policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney when Cheney served as Secretary of Defense during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.  Top of page


Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Michael Powell
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