Speculation Over Powell Replacement Begins

UPDATED: Current FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin is among a number of folks being bandied about to fill the top spot.
Posted January 25, 2005

Roy Mark

UPDATED: Although President George W. Bush has not announced a replacement for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael K. Powell, who announced his resignation last week, four names emerged over the weekend as the leading candidates: FCC Commissioners Kevin Martin and Kathleen Abernathy; Assistant Commerce Secretary Michael Gallagher; and former Texas Public Utility Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Armendariz Klein.

By promoting either Republicans Kevin Martin or Kathleen Abernathy to the top spot, Bush would gain a second nomination to fill the vacant commissioner's position.

"It makes some sense to elevate either Martin or Abernathy," Randy May, a senior fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a Washington think tank, said. "Martin is quite deregulatory, and I think he could make a good chairman."

Prior to being appointed to the FCC by Bush in 2001, Martin served as a telecommunications lawyer in the White House. He also served on the Bush-Cheney transition team and was deputy general counsel for the Bush campaign.

Martin has backed most of Powell's deregulatory policies, particularly on Voice over IP issues and the rollout of alternative broadband platforms, such as broadband over power lines. He most notably clashed with Powell early last year when he sided with Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein to block the chairman's plan to further deregulate local phone rates. The courts ultimately bounced the plan backed by Martin.

Although Abernathy's name is making numerous lists as a replacement for Powell, she has said in the past she is not interested in continuing at the FCC.

Klein worked in the White House for the first President Bush and served as a policy director for George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas. In one scenario, Martin could be promoted to chairman and Klein appointed to fill Martin's seat.

Gallagher's role at the Commerce Department also makes him a leading candidate to replace Powell. As part of his role at the Commerce Department, he serves as the administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the White House agency that controls government-held spectrum.

Roger Cochetti, the group director of public policy at the IT trade group CompTIA, warns, however, Bush likes surprises.

"The president has demonstrated he is capable of going outside the pundits' list," he said.

In that case, Pat Wood and Earl Comstock could make the short list. Wood is the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and another Texan with close ties to Bush; Comstock is a Washington lawyer who used to work for incoming Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Ala.).

Whoever the president appoints, Cochetti predicts there will be no major policy changes at the FCC.

"Deregulation of the Internet and e-commerce is something the president and this administration is on record as supporting. I fully expect that to continue," Cochetti said.

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