Powell States Case for a 'Judicious' Path

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WASHINGTON -Marketplace judgments and consumer demands should drive regulatory efforts, newly appointed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell declared in his first press briefing last Tuesday.

In discussing his general view of the agency's regulatory role, Powell weighed in on several issues significant to cable.

Powell, the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, was an FCC commissioner before President Bush elevated him to chairman in one of his administration's first acts.

"I have no confidence that either I personally, or this institution, has the foresight and the understanding to be sufficiently accurate in its predictions about how technology or markets are going to unfold," Powell said. He suggested that the commission should defer to competitive markets in most instances.

The comments signaled a break with the activism of former FCC Chairman William Kennard.

Powell described his philosophy as "judicious" rather than "quasi-legislative." He said the commission is charged with properly implementing laws, not making them.

He refused to comment on such issues as the regulation of television content and free airtime for political candidates, saying such areas are better left to Congress.

With the fifth anniversary of the Telecommunication Act of 1996 approaching, Powell said he felt the act had been a success-especially with respect to cable.

The law's "silver lining" was that-through competition and deregulation-it "unleashed broadband," brought phone companies' digital-subscriber-line services "out of the closet" and set the stage for needed investment capital for the cable industry, Powell said.

The new chairman added that he's not "particularly troubled" that cable bills increased in the wake of the law. "Consumers seem willing to pay" the increased prices, he said.

Powell was noncommittal on the issue of open access, or a mandate that cable operators open their broadband networks to competing Internet-service providers. But he said "it is not obvious" that open access should be required.

"You can make a case for competitive activity any time," said Powell. "The real question is, is it timely?"

"A market works when both producers and consumers have value to exchange," he added. The value to producers "includes elements of propriety, exclusivity and competitive advantage," he said.

On the digital-television front, Powell said the FCC would do all it could "to clarify the regulatory environment." There is "still a big wild card out there as to how consumers will respond" to digital TV, he said.

When asked about his top priorities as chairman, Powell refused to place them in any order.

"This job is tough right now," Powell said. "There are no right answers, there aren't any wrong answers, there are only best judgments." States News Service

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