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Ownership author Ferree ankles FCC bureau post

Media Bureau's topper follows Powell out the door

WASHINGTON — One of the architects of the Federal Communications Commission’s controversial plan to loosen media ownership rules resigned Monday.

W. Kenneth Ferree, head of the agency’s Media Bureau, announced that he will leave his position in March. FCC chairman Michael Powell announced last Friday his decision to leave after the commission’s monthly meeting in March.

With Ferree’s help, Powell drafted a plan to allow media companies to own more outlets in a given market. The larger media companies supported the plan, but smaller companies and activist groups attacked it as monopolistic and anti-competitive. Still, Powell persuaded a majority of his fellow commissioners to pass the plan in 2003.

In a clear rebuke, however, Congress blocked part of the plan, and a federal appeals court later nullified the remaining parts, calling them unjustified. The FCC has only a few days left before it must decide whether to appeal the court decision.

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Ferree also played a key role in drawing up plans for the transition to digital television transmission. Plan calls for the transition to be completed by either 2007 or when 85% of U.S. viewers have the capability to receive them, whichever comes last. Broadcasters must eliminate analog transmission entirely by 2009.

But without Ferree or Powell to shepherd the plan, its fate will likely not be clear until a new chairman is appointed.