The Reluctant Planner: FCC Chairman Michael Powell on Indecency, Innovation, Consolidation, and Competition

By Clark, Drew; Gillespie, Nick et al. | Reason, December 2004 | Go to article overview

The Reluctant Planner: FCC Chairman Michael Powell on Indecency, Innovation, Consolidation, and Competition


Clark, Drew, Gillespie, Nick, Walker, Jesse, Reason


HIS DECISION TO loosen media ownership rules "insulted your intelligence and wounded democracy," one newspaper columnist declares. He's obsessed with "trying to save America's virtue" writes another. He has presided over "an end to an era of competition," a consumer advocate argues. He's Michael K. Powell, 41, arguably the most controversial chairman in the history of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the central planner charged with overseeing the structure and details of telecommunications in America.

As a young man, Powell joined the Army, following in the footsteps of his father, Secretary of State Colin Powell. After a back injury ended his military career, he took up law, graduating from Georgetown University Law Center in 1993. In 1997 the Senate selected him to be one of the two Republican commissioners at the FCC. (The agency has five commissioners, three traditionally picked from the governing party and two from the opposition.) When George W. Bush became president, he tapped Powell for the top job.

There are two ways to look at Powell's performance in office. One is the way Powell portrays himself: as a "Reagan-era child" eager to lighten the government's burden on the communications industries. This Powell has a vision of digital convergence--of a market where cable, telephone, cellular, and satellite companies compete to sell bundles of video, voice, and data packages across Internet-style networks--that is finally gaining traction in the market and in Washington. In this coming world, he argues, government regulation is much less necessary.

That Powell applied the same deregulatory principle to long-established limits on the number of television stations a single company can own. Powell and the other two Republican commissioners approved a modest plan to liberalize those regulations in June 2003, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. Public interest groups denounced the move, and legislators retightened some of the rules. Others were overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.

That's one perspective on Powell. Another view argues that the chairman isn't the deregulator he's reputed to be--that in fact, he's made the government more intrusive. His FCC has pushed an industrial policy-style mandate for digital television (DTV), and last year it forced TV and computer manufacturers to include anti-copying tools in their products. In August the agency took a similar step with Internet telephones, requiring them to install surveillance-friendly wiretap equipment in the name of homeland security.

And while Powell's proposed changes to the media ownership rules were deregulatory in many ways, they would have tightened the caps on how many radio stations a company may own, while grandfathering in most of the acquisitions that predated the rule change. Worse, the chairman seems more interested in letting existing broadcasters merge than in letting new broadcasters emerge: During the Clinton years, he voted against a plan to license new low-power outlets on the FM band, citing the possible "economic impacts" on incumbent stations.

Then, too, politics has forced Powell to eat some of his deregulatory words. Where he once wanted to re-evaluate rules governing "indecency" in broadcasting, he now enforces them with a vengeance. His agency has issued 21 fines--and two consent decrees--for $4.7 million within the last year.

In August--one month prior to issuing the biggest fine of all, a $550,000 slap at OBS owner Viacom for its role in the Super Bowl halftime show featuring Janet Jackson's bared breast--Powell sat down in his office to discuss these issues with reason Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie, reason Managing Editor Jesse Waller, and Drew Clark, senior writer for National Journal's Technology Daily.

reason: What would you say of someone who said, "There is nothing unique about the scarcity of radio frequencies.... Rather than continuing to engage in willful denial of reality, the time has come to move forward toward a single standard of First Amendment analysis that recognizes the reality of the media marketplace and respects the intelligence of American consumers. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Reluctant Planner: FCC Chairman Michael Powell on Indecency, Innovation, Consolidation, and Competition
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.