Friday, January 21, 2005


Good news is worse news

Michael Powell is stepping down! Hurrah!
FCC Official Says Powell to Resign

U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell plans to resign after four years as chief regulator of the telecommunications and media industries, an FCC official and other sources familiar with his decision said Friday, according to wire reports.

The Associated Press reported that Powell, 41, who maintained a light regulatory hand as the nation's chief media watchdog but collected some of the largest indecency fines against U.S. broadcasters, plans to issue a statement but was not expected to hold a formal news conference, the agency official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The news, first reported on The Wall Street Journal's editorial page Friday, was something of a surprise coming just one day after President Bush's inauguration and with some very hefty issues yet to be dealt with by the FCC. Those issues include how to treat burgeoning Internet phone services as well as how to overhaul the Universal Service Fund, a federal subsidy program under financial pressure. The Wall Street Journal is published by Dow Jones & Co. (DJ), publisher of the newswire used for this report.

Rumors have circulated for months that Powell, who has been on the FCC since President Clinton appointed him as a commissioner seven years ago, would step down. Recent conventional wisdom had him leaving in the spring after at least some of these issues were dealt with.

Appointed chairman by President Bush in 2001, Powell suffered several defeats, including a failed effort to relax regulations restricting television and radio ownership and a revolt by fellow Republican Commissioner Kevin Martin who voted against his plan to ease local telephone network sharing rules.

Among bright spots, he shepherded through a plan to eliminate interference with public safety wireless communications, advanced the transition to higher-quality digital television and promoted high-speed Internet service.

Lately, the FCC under Powell was perhaps best known for cracking down on indecent antics on television and radio, sparked by pop singer Janet Jackson exposing her bare breast during the Super Bowl football game last year.

The FCC chairman has received praise from most companies for his deregulatory approach. However, consumer groups have criticized him for attempting to allow media conglomerates to grow bigger and reducing competition among wireless providers.

Powell, son of retiring Secretary of State Colin Powell, had planned on following his father's military career, entering the U.S. Army. But, a jeep accident in Germany in 1987 almost killed him, requiring 18 units of blood during extensive surgery in which doctors almost left him for dead.

After a long rehabilitation, he went to law school, clerked for a federal judge, became chief of staff at the Justice Department's antitrust division, and was appointed in 1997 as an FCC commissioner by then-President Clinton.
Good to see you go, Mike, please don't let the door smack you on your behind on your way out to start collecting a 7-figure salary from one of the media monsters you encouraged to consolidate during your rancid reign.

Except - as I have previously written, there is an unalterable axiom at play during Bush's second term: "Anyone George W. Bush appoints for his second term (or who is appointed by someone appointed by Bush for his second term) will be worse than the person being replaced."

So far, we have seen nothing to invalidate this axiom - Condoleeza Rice is worse than Colin Powell, Alberto Gonzales is worse (if that's possible) than John Ashworth - so there is no reason for us to suspect that it will not be operable in this case.

Yes, it's hard to imagine how anyone could be a worse FCC chairman than Michael Powell, but that's what makes this so scary. Good horror movies tease you into a sense of fright by not showing you the monster right away. They make you imagine what could be so horrible before, hopefully, confirming that it's even worse than you dreamed.

What could be worse than Michael Powell? I'm not looking forward to finding out. I just know it's coming.

(Note to the FCC: There are no profanities or "wardrobe malfunctions" in this post. And at least as of now, lese majeste is not a crime in any US jurisdiction. So lay off.)
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