Sunday, January 30, 2005

Who will replace Powell and Why it matters!

As it stands now, it appears the most likely replacement for departing FCC chief Mike Powell is commissioner Kevin Martin - who if you recall had several spats with Powell in the past over broadband deregulation. While both support deregulation, Martin seems to have a shred more consumer advocacy in his blood, and wasn't comfortable at the speed at which Powell was tearing down competitive guidelines. Whoever replaces Powell has a long list of controversial issues to tackle - well covered in this TMCnet piece.

Why does this matter?
  1. It's an easy choice for Bush. Too many people on Capitol Hill wouldn't go for an exact Michael Powell duplicate. Martin is seen as a bit stricter than Powell and more willing to enforce regulations already on the books instead of ignoring them. And as an existing commissioner, Martin can be designated as chairman without having to be confirmed by Congress - which would prevent giving Democrats a chance to drag out the issues and political hot potatoes such as media consolidation.

  2. Martin won't be making any sweeping changes. All of us looking at the current telecommunications landscape are already screaming "look, Ma Bell is resurrecting herself!". But under Martin this is likely to continue without much fanfare. He'll probably remain "hands-off" with VoIP - which is good - but our nations municipalities are likely to find themselves bound, gagged and handcuffed should they consider deploying municipality funded broadband. By maintaining the status quo, Martin will ensure that the rates paid by middle America for phone service and internet access will continue to steadily rise and the 'digital divide' will continue to widen as carriers cherry pick residential neighborhoods for fiber deployment while leaving businesses and less profitable customers holding a bag of very expensive poop.

  3. Digital TV will continue to flounder. As it should! I'm all for digital TV and I'm all for HDTV. Both of them exist in my home. But that doesn't mean I think the family across the river who earns less than $20,000 a year and supports 4 children without welfare or Medicaid assistance should have to buy a new $650 television, $250 antenna and $100 receiver unit. Martin isn't expected to push the roll-out schedules any faster than the 85% rule... which should in effect keep pushing out the 'drop-dead' date for broadcasters. Now, I do think all the full power broadcasters who received free airwaves more than 10 years ago and have made profits on that free gift should be required to have digital simulcasting in place for 100% of their broadcast day by 2006. Doubt that will happen with Martin though... he's just a beholden to corporate interests as Powell. ({begin rant} You DID know that the TV broadcasters got their 6 mhz chuncks of *extremely* valuable VHF and UHF spectrum without paying a single dime, right? And that they've never paid a single dime for it since they started broadcasting. And that they're dragging their feet as hard as possible to keep from giving it up to other communications carriers who will have to pay billions for it! {end rant})