Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell plans to resign today, FCC officials confirmed, ending what has often been a controversial tenure as he tried to push the telecom and media industries into an increasingly deregulated world that some lawmakers, companies, and consumer groups didn’t like.

The news, first reported on The Wall Street Journal’s Jan. 21 editorial page, was something of a surprise, coming just one day after President Bush’s inauguration and with some very hefty issues yet to be dealt with by the FCC. These issues include how to treat burgeoning internet phone services and how to overhaul the Universal Service Fund, a federal subsidy program under increasing financial pressure.

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    The eRate, which provides up to $2.25 billion in telecommunications discounts to eligible schools and libraries, is funded through the Universal Service Fund. Earlier this year, under Powell’s direction, eRate funding was suspended while the Universal Service Administrative Co. brought its accounting practices into line with federal government standards.

    Also still in play: An FCC payola investigation of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) launched early in January. The FCC probe seeks to determine if ED’s $241,000 payment to commentator Armstrong Williams constituted illegal payola. Williams reportedly plugged the No Child Left Behind Act on television and radio shows after ED made the payment.

    Rumors have circulated for months that Powell, who has been on the FCC since President Clinton appointed him as a commissioner seven years ago, would step down. Recent conventional wisdom had him leaving in the spring after at least some of these regulatory issues were dealt with.

    The FCC is a five-member commission, with a majority representing the party of the president, in this case, Republicans. Possible successors discussed have included current Republican Commissioner Kevin Martin.

    Links:

    Federal Communications Commission
    http://www.fcc.gov