Michael Powell

Powell

Federal Communications Commission

POSITION: Chairman

CONTRIBUTION: Powell's pro-deregulation stance promises an era when telecom mergers will get quick go-aheads and more wireless spectrum will be made available for Net services.

CHALLENGE: To promote the wireless Web, he'll have to wrest valuable spectrum from the Pentagon or the powerful broadcast lobby.

If you're in Washington and see a crowd of reporters, chances are good you'll find Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael K. Powell in the middle of it. Although he rarely gives them anything newsworthy, they keep after him, prompting him to call them "my groupies." Celebrity status for the country's top regulator may seem, well, weird. Still, since he took the job three months ago, Powell's views and the fact that he's the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell have made him more compelling than your average FCC head.

What really sets Powell apart is his ability to influence the future of communications at a critical time in history. The FCC chairman will decide issues that will affect everything from how quickly broadband Net services are rolled out to whether Americans will be able to get video clips on their mobile phones. Top of his agenda: how to free up more radio spectrum for new wireless services and whether cable companies must let Net players use their networks to offer broadband service.

Powell hasn't laid out his positions formally, but he seems likely to give the Bells and cable companies a fairly free hand. This may mean less competition in broadband services in the short term. To Powell, this kind of hands-off approach will lead to greater innovation and competition in the long run. "[Deregulation] is not a reward for competition, it's an incentive for competition," he says.

Already, Powell has made enemies. His laissez-faire attitude doesn't sit well with consumer groups. And to free up more wireless spectrum, he'll have to pry some loose from the Pentagon or broadcasters. But Powell is the first FCC chairman since the 1970s with a majority of the commission and both houses of Congress behind him. With many battles ahead, he may wish he was a bit more anonymous.

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