Policy

Powell Departs With a Salute

3/13/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

Washington— An emotional Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell on Thursday saluted his colleagues past and present and bade them farewell at his final public meeting as the agency’s leader.

“I’ve loved it, every single day of it. Thanks to the most remarkable public staff I’ve ever worked with. It will be the greatest memory of my life,” said Powell, holding back tears as FCC employees stood to give him a round of applause.

Powell, 41, joined the FCC in 1997 and became chairman in 2001 — a period in which the Internet exploded, then came crashing down on Wall Street, yet slowly recovered as consumers gained enthusiasm in cable and telco investments in broadband.

After a brief vacation, he’ll go to work for The Aspen Institute, a Washington think tank.

NO SUCCESSOR YET

“He was and is the broadband guy,” Republican FCC member Kathleen Abernathy said. “He understood what broadband was before more most of us knew what it was.”

In January, Powell announced that he would leave in March. He is expected to leave no later than March 18. The White House has not named a successor.

Every FCC chairman is controversial because the job has real power over wealthy and influential industries. Powell angered consumer groups, which felt he catered to business, and annoyed industry segments when they felt disappointment about policy outcomes.

Last month, the FCC riled TV broadcasters when it refused to expand the cable-carriage rights of digital-TV stations. Stations have now taken their dispute with cable to Congress.

Democratic FCC member Michael Copps — who had fierce disagreements with Powell over media ownership and broadband regulation — praised the outgoing chairman for his stewardship at a time of significant change in the telecommunications arena.

“When the history of his tenure here at the FCC is written, it will be seen as event-filled and important,” Copps said. “You have served our country honorably and in numerous capacities.”

Powell became a lawyer and entered government service literally by accident. As a young Army officer, he was badly injured in a Jeep crash that left him bedridden in a hospital for more than a year, ending his military service. After regrouping, he went to law school.

Democratic FCC member Jonathan Adelstein made reference to how Powell’s chosen career path was diverted.

“He’s really a soldier at heart. He’s given a lot of himself to the country. Indeed, he almost gave his life to the country,” Adelstein said.

BROADBAND: NO LIMITS

As chairman, Powell moved to keep cable-modem service deregulated, a ruling now before the U.S. Supreme Court. He wanted to do the same for phone-company digital subscriber line service, but judicial rejection of his cable-modem policies froze action on DSL.

Powell also took steps to shield voice-over-Internet protocol service from traditional phone regulation, both at the federal and state level. Some state regulators that want to have a say in VoIP regulation have gone to court against the FCC.

Republican FCC commissioner Kevin Martin, considered to be in the running for Powell’s job, noted Powell’s commitment to nurturing private investment and innovation.

“You should be proud, in particular, I think, for the steps you have taken to foster new services and technologies,” Martin said. “That’ll certainly be, I think, your most important legacy.”

September