January 25, 2001, 10:36 AM — Reaction to President George W. Bush's selection this week of Michael Powell to head the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) appears sharply divided, with some consumer groups immediately blasting the choice.
Organizations representing major wireless and telecom players have lined up to praise Powell, who is considered a major proponent of letting market forces drive FCC action. For instance, the Powell appointment appeals to groups such as the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association and the U.S. Telecom Association (USTA), which represents the nation's mammoth Baby Bells. Especially attractive to those groups are Powell's signals so far that he will lead an FCC that may prove less intrusive when it comes to industry deals and issues, said Gary Lytle, interim president and CEO of USTA in Washington.
"He has promised to move with dispatch and to move with certainty. We have been disappointed with the length of time that the FCC has taken with some of its decisions," Lytle said.
Meanwhile, consumer groups such as the Center for Media Education (CME) have vowed to push Powell beyond a mere political platform built around market-driven decision-making and into the details of industry issues.
"Beware the rhetorical flashes of brilliance. Beneath that is someone who wants to let the market decide at the expense of consumers," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of CME in Washington. Chester was critical of Powell's opinions surrounding the FCC's blessing recently of the AOL-Time Warner merger. Chester took issue with Powell's preference that the FCC stay out of the issue of prying open AOL Time Warner's cable infrastructures to competing ISPs.
In a written opinion on the merger conditions, Powell argued that the FCC should have let antitrust authorities at the Federal Trade Commission take sole custody of open access. Perhaps a direct signal of a more hands-off FCC to come, Powell said in the opinion issued recently, "Our merger conditions more often look like rules, reflecting judgments that, if true, affect the entire industry and not just the parties."
No stranger to antitrust issues, Powell worked as chief of staff at the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division before being nominated as FCC commissioner by former President Bill Clinton in 1997. Prior to his government service, Powell was an associate attorney in Washington for the law firm O'Melveny & Myers.