Chairman Powell’s future at the FCC is primarily dependent on November’s election — if Kerry wins, he’ll appoint a Democrat as FCC chair, and Powell most certainly won’t stay on for that. However, the LA Times speculates that Powell may be preparing a post-election exit, regardless of outcome.
Apparently, major telecomm lobbyists share this prediction, and are working hard to push their agendas while Powell’s still around.
Without a doubt, Powell is one of the worst FCC chairs in recent memory. Despite seeming to be somewhat tech literate, Powell has a very shallow understanding of economics and political realities. He claims obedience to the “free market,” which is really more of an obedience to the media and telecomm industry, whose interests he does a rotten job of balancing. Hence, he’s come to loggerheads with fellow Republican Commissioner Kevin Martin who has a much more nuanced and informed understanding of telecomm economics and politics.
On top of that, he has a tin ear when it comes to anything sounding remotely like the public interest, seen most vividly in how he pushed through the media rules loosening initiative, with no plans to hold public hearings, despite the fact that the Commission received more public comments on this issue than any other initiative in FCC history.
Finally, Powell demonstrates a very poor grasp of regulatory law, evidenced strongly in the recent Third Circuit Court decision against his pet media ownership deregulation package. The Court summed up Powell’s overall approach when it characterized the FCC as relying on “irrational assumptions and inconsistencies.”
Having a Powell-less FCC can only be a good thing, though you always have to be suspicious about the successor. If Bush steals…er, “wins” the next election, then the choice for next chair will be either Kathleen Abernathy or Kevin Martin. Between the two of them, Martin has a clearly more sophisticated understanding and approach. Abernathy has mostly been a yes-woman to Powell and demonstrates no greater skills than his — at best, she doesn’t appear quite as bull-headed as Powell.
If Kerry wins in November, Michael Copps appears to be the most likely new chair. On the plus side, he’s taken a strong stand and role in opposing the push to accelerate media consolidation through loosening media ownership rules. On the minus side, he’s also been the strongest proponent of cracking down on so-called indecency. Still, he’s smarter and much more principled than Powell.
In any event, we won’t end up with a good FCC, just maybe one that’s a little less evil.