Chairman eases concerns over media monopolization

WASHINGTON — As expected, FCC topper Michael Powell’s confirmation Thursday before the Senate Commerce Committee was a love fest. Pol after pol praised Powell for his leadership style and keen intellect, and more than one reference was made to Powell’s papa, Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Wasting no time, President Bush named the younger Powell, 38, to head the FCC in January. A Republican, Powell had previously served for three years as an FCC commissioner.

Deregulation stance

About the only lawmaker giving Powell something of a hard time was Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who expressed concern about Powell’s yen for deregulation in an era already full of media mega-mergers.

“Under your watch, there could the most radical media concentration in history,” Wyden said.

Powell assured the Senate panel that he won’t let the landscape become monopolized. “Your concern is genuine. There is reason to be concerned about media concentration,” he said. “I’ll say publicly, I don’t deregulate for deregulation’s sake.”

At the same time, Powell said many of the ownership rules now on FCC ledgers were drawn up in the 1940s and ’70s, and that it is more than appropriate to review their standing.

Just like Powell, President Bush’s nominees to fill three vacant seats at the FCC sailed through the confirmation process.

They were Republicans Kathleen Abernathy, 42, a telecom attorney and lobbyist; Republican Kevin Martin, 34, a former FCC staffer and Bush supporter who served on the president’s transition team; and Democrat Michael Copps, 62, a former aide to Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and former assistant secretary at the Commerce Dept.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he hopes to take a vote on the nominees next week. Names will then be forwarded to the full Senate.

Powell is eager for the new faces to arrive at the FCC, as he is currently operating with a 2-2 split.

Republican FCC commish Harold Furchtgott-Roth and Democratic commish Susan Ness will leave once their replacements arrive. The fifth seat on the commission was left vacant when former FCC topper William Kennard, a Democrat, resigned in January.

Current FCC commish Gloria Tristani will remain.

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