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Powell tapped as FCC chief

George W. Bush surprised few in the telcom industry yesterday by naming Michael Powell the new chairman of the FCC.

But with one of his first acts as the 43rd president, Bush blew a rush of optimistism into a broadcast industry stung by FCC decisions only four days ago that greatly diminished TV stations' chances of winning government help on digital transition issues.

Although Powell voted with former Chairman William Kennard and fellow Republican Harold Furchtgott-Roth to deny rights for cable carriage of broadcasters' multicast DTV signals and indicated that chances are slim for dual carriage of both analog and digital signals during the transition, he indicated that broadcasters stand a good chance of winning a delay in the timetable for rolling out digital TV.

"I'm no fan of these expectations about the time frame in which this transition is going to occur," Powell told the Association of Local Television Stations in Las Vegas. "I find the current time frame extraordinarily unlikely to be achieved," he said "We get the sense we're failing or stalling simply because we're measuring against these expectations."

Powell said it is unreasonable to expect that the industry can remake itself with new technology and replace consumer sets by 2006, when the government aims to take back analog spectrum if 85% of U.S. homes have digital sets.

"I look in history in vain to find examples of consumer transformation, be it CDs from records to the introduction of VCR to find any examples that show this complete a transformation in the time frame expected."

Although broadcasters appear determined to ask that the 2002 deadline for bringing digital online at all stations be delayed, Powell would not say how a delay should be implemented or whether a postponement would actually come about. - Bill McConnell