Powell to Step Down from FCC Chair

24 January 2005

Michael Powell (41), son of retiring US secretary of state Colin Powell, is to step down as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in March 2005.

Appointed, as are all FCC commissioners, by political patronage, Powell was the nominee of President George W Bush when he took office four years ago. His reign at the FCC has been marked by controversy and a predilection for encouraging Big Media toward further obesity while discouraging it among consumers.

Powell's vigorous campaigning in the latter sector pushed many major US food manufacturers into reevaluating both product formulation and marketing policies.

As Advertising Age puts it, his resignation "has consumer groups pleased and some business groups in mourning". Few on either side of the fence doubt it will bring about a sea-change in FCC policy.

In his letter of resignation to President Bush, Powell wrote: "Having completed a bold and aggressive agenda, it is time for me to pursue other opportunities and let someone else take the reins of the agency."

Under Powell's leadership the five FCC commissioners (three Republican nominees, two Democrat) pursued a more openly partisan policy than their predecessors.

During his occupancy of the FCC chair, the commission bowed to the arguments of major broadcasters that cable and the internet gave consumers numerous additional choices for content. From acceptance of that case, it was one short step to the introduction of regulatory changes permitting a single media company to own TV stations and newspapers - plus a local cable company - within a given market.

The resultant furore created by political opponents and consumerist groups led to court action, still ongoing, and a suspension of the FCC's green light for a media feeding frenzy.

Powell's four-year term was "a case study of the consequences of ideological zeal and intellectual bias," believes Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. The FCC chairman had turned the body "into more of an intellectual Chamber of Commerce than an agency whose duty is to watch the giants under its mandate."

On the other side of the political chasm, the Progress and Freedom Foundation saw it differently. "[Powell] took enormous strides in promoting the growth of broadband and internet-related services, with a focus on benefiting consumers," it opined.

Data sourced from AdAge (USA); additional content by WARC staff