FCC Chairman Powell Plans to Resign By Frank Ahrens Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, January 21, 2005; 1:20 PM ET Michael K. Powell will step down as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission after nearly four often-rocky years as the government's top media and telecommunications regulator, he said today. Powell, 41, the son of outgoing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, said he will likely leave in March. He informed his bureau heads this morning of his decision, which he said was not spurred by another job offer, according to an FCC source who asked not to be identified. "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," Powell said in a statement issued this afternoon. "During my tenure, we worked to get the law right in order to stimulate innovative technology that puts more power in the hands of the American people, giving them greater choices that enrich their lives." A likely successor to Powell is Republican FCC member Kevin J. Martin, whose wife formerly worked for Vice President Cheney. Kathleen Q. Abernathy is the commission's other Republican; Democrats Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein round out the five-member commission. Powell was appointed to the FCC by President Clinton in 1997. After George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, Powell was elevated to chairmanship of the commission, which oversees land-based and wireless telecommunication, satellite services and media ownership and patrols the nation's airwaves for indecency. It was these past two areas that proved toughest for Powell, a former Army officer who left the service after suffering a near-fatal injury in a 1987 training exercise in West Germany that left him bedridden for a year. In June 2003, Powell and the two other Republicans on the FCC pushed through new media ownership rules that would have allowed the television networks to own a few more stations, tightened national radio ownership rules and let one company own the biggest newspaper and television station in almost every city. Powell was criticized by the FCC's two Democratic commissioners and a variety of organizations and advocacy groups for allowing Big Media to grow even bigger. Eventually, Congress turned one of the controversial regulations into a law and the rest were stayed by a federal court, pending review. On indecency, Powell took the unusual step of launching an FCC investigation the morning after the 2004 Super Bowl, which featured a risque halftime show topped off by the brief exposure of Janet Jackson's right breast, in what the star claimed was a "wardrobe malfunction." After an investigation, the FCC fined 20 CBS stations, which broadcast the game, a record $550,000, which the network has yet to pay. More fines for indecency were proposed under Powell than by all previous chairman combined. In 2004 alone, the FCC proposed nearly $8 million in indecency fines. A self-admitted gadget geek, Powell pushed for the rapid rollout of cell phone and wireless communications networks, calling them tools of democracy. Ironically, it was grass roots e-mail campaigns during the media ownership controversy that poured the most heat on Powell. Criticized by some for approving mega-mergers, such as America Online's 2001 purchase of Time Warner Inc., creating at the time the world's largest media company, Powell also blocked mergers he felt would hurt consumers, such as Echostar Communications Corp.'s 2002 attempt to buy Hughes Electronics Corp.'s DirecTV business, combining it with EchoStar's Dish Network service. Powell led the commission in voting down the merger, saying it would eliminate competition between the nation's only two major satellite services and eventually drive up subscriber prices.