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Powell Heads for Exit

Federal Communications Commission Michael Powell -- loved by some, loathed by others -- announced his resignation Friday, ending a reign that struggled to realign old media rules while coping with the stresses imposed by Internet-age technology.

In a prepared statement, Powell said he planned to leave “sometime in March” and take some time off “before taking up my next challenge.” He did not say that he would remain at the agency until a successor had been confirmed.

Rivals for the regulator’s top post include current Republican FCC member Kevin Martin; Michael Gallagher, head of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Rebecca Armendariz Klein, former chairwoman of the Texas Public Utility Commission; and Janice Obuchowski, a telecommunications consultant and former NTIA head under President George H.W. Bush, according to Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. telecommunications analyst Blair Levin.

Powell, 41, joined the FCC in 1997, a Republican nominee of President Clinton who previously appointed him chief of staff of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.

President Bush elevated Powell to FCC chairman a few days after his 2001 inauguration. Later, Powell was confirmed for a five-year term ending June 30, 2007.

Powell said it was time to leave the FCC “having completed a bold and aggressive agenda” designed “to get the law right in order to stimulate innovative technology that puts more power in the hands of the American people.”

“Michael Powell has been a truly outstanding FCC chairman and a true champion of competitive market forces,” National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs said.

“Michael Powell had the right goal: expediting the introduction of advanced technologies. He had the wrong mechanism: letting the big boys do it,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of Media Access Project, a group that helped to stymie Powell’s media-ownership rules. “He was good at philosophy but bad at execution. He is a fine speechmaker but a poor politician.”