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Championed Market-Changing Policies During His Tenure

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WASHINGTON ( -- Michael Powell today announced he is stepping down as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
Photo: AP
FCC Chairman Michael Powell is resigning his post.

Mr. Powell, 41, said he would leave the federal agency in March. "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," he said in a letter to President Bush.

Mr. Powell's resignation has consumer groups pleased and some business groups in mourning, even though his departure is expected to bring a dramatic shift in FCC policy.

Raised FCC's profile
Mr. Powell has raised the profile of the FCC and its regulatory focus in a way that has had a signifigant impact on both marketing and media companies. He has been outspoken about the problem of obesity and helped orchestrate the wave of sentiment that has caused food marketers to make major changes in their industry.

He also led the charge for controversial new FCC rules easing the restrictions on media consolidation and ownership of multiple properties in regional markets.

And though lately the FCC has become an advocate of enforcing broadcast obscenity laws, that support came grudgingly, after intense congressional pressure fueled in part by last year's Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident.

Deregulatory agenda
The son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is also leaving the Bush administration, Michael Powell may have been the agency's most controversial chairman, pursuing a deregulatory agenda with a vigor seldom exhibited in a government agency charged with protecting the "public interest."

Only a still ongoing court challenge stopped the FCC from eliminating many of the cross-ownership rules that for years have ensured a diversity of broadcast voices in the media marketplace. Under Mr. Powell the FCC accepted broadcasters' arguments that cable and the Internet gave consumers numerous additional choices for content and approved changes that would have allowed one media company to own TV stations and newspapers in addition to the local cable company in one market.

The moves infuriated consumer groups, which argued that the number of media outlets available nationally didn't do anything to ensure that local information was available from diverse sources. They accused the FCC of failing to protect the "public interest" and sued to stop some of the rules changes.

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

The Progress and Freedom Foundation, meanwhile, took a decidedly different view.

Mr. Powell "took enormous strides in promoting the growth of broadband and Internet-related services, with a focus on benefiting consumers," the group said in a statement.

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