Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell is stepping down after serving four years as chairman and approximately six years as a commissioner.
A strong proponent of deregulation, Powell leaves behind a mixed bag of achievements. While he has done much to promote broadband adoption and to protect the growing VoIP industry from regulatory overhead, he has an ideological streak which persuades him that pretty much anything industry wants is automatically good.
Indeed, sometimes it is, as we have seen with VoIP regulation. On the other hand, Powell has behaved as if media consolidation could not possibly have a downside.
Powell supported many good things, such as allowing consumers to keep their telephone numbers when switching carriers, the establishment of a national do-not-call registry to deter telemarketers, and a push to open up more bandwidth to private use.
But he also supported the so-called broadcast flag, a scheme making it illegal to sell digital TV receivers without copy protection technology. While always spoken of in terms of piracy prevention, this sort of technology promises to give content owners and distributors an extraordinary degree of control over the ways in which media can be used by those who pay for it.
Perhaps his worst policy has been to promote further ownership consolidation of TV, newspapers, and radio networks. Powell's dismissive comments that the internet and cable TV provide enough diversity of content could not have been made without full knowledge that the eight or so media behemoths that own virtually all of TV, radio, newspapers, book publishers, music labels, and movie studios also own the cable TV networks and a great deal of online content as well.
In all, most people will find something to regret, and something to celebrate, in Powell's departure. There has been no word about who the President might choose to replace him. Certainly, he now has an opportunity to do a lot worse than Powell. ®
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