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Michael Powell Blogs? Not quite.

The blogosphere is a buzz that FCC Don Michael Powell has started a blog with the stated purpose

“to hear from the tech community directly and to try to get beyond the traditional inside the Beltway Washington world where lobbyists filter the techies. I am looking forward to an open, transparent and meritocracy-based communication—attributes that bloggers are famous for!”

First, I’m going to have to be nit-picky and point out that this is not a blog. It’s a series of columns that Powell’s writing as a run-up to the AO2004 Innovation Summit at Stanford University, where Powell is keynote speaker. There’s no indication that Powell can post short comments at will at 3 AM. The only thing that is remotely blog-like is the fact that the columns are open to comments — but that’s a feature very non-bloggish sites like CNN and MSNBC have had for regular articles for years.

Now, as for the content, it’s the usual Powell-speak we’ve gotten used to over the last 4 years, although he is making some attempt to speak to the topics his commenters bring up, if not the specific concerns that are individually raised.

Regarding media consolidation, Powell writes:

“The challenge for the technocrat (that is me) is not whether we believe in the risk of excess concentration, but where you draw the line. Diversity values are important, but they do not lend themselves to mathematical precision. It is not easy to figure out whether you need 5 stations in a market, or only 4 before diversity is compromised.”

Yes, Michael, you can’t boil down diversity to a simple (simplistic) mathematical formula. That’s one of the reasons the Third Circuit Court slapped down your half-baked tray of research intended to substantiate your barely-half-baked media ownership rules revision.

It seems to be your utter failure to comprehend the world of qualitative analysis that underlies your FCC’s inability to effectively review the media ownership regs.

This isn’t to say that we have to reject the world of the quantitative — eventually there will have to be some mathematical limits expressed, such as no company can own more than X percent of the media outlets in a given market. But these limits can be reasoned and defended more subtantively than the FCC has so far using bone-headed metrics like the “diversity index,” which only counts the number of independently owned media outlets, without paying any mind to the size, reach and audience size of these outlets (all of which can be counted quantitatively, and evaluated qualitatively so that they might be weighted, resulting in a more defensible analysis).

I think it’s time to send Mikey Powell back to college to learn some research methods.

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Mikey Powell Might Step Down, This Can Only Improve the FCC

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.

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