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Powell: won't dump TV's "garbage"

Television shows too much "garbage" that children shouldn't watch, new FCC Chairman Michael Powell said yesterday, but he insisted it's not his job to clean up the airwaves.

"It doesn't mean I don't get outraged," he told reporters during his first press conference since talking the agency's helm. "There are a lot of things children shouldn't be seeing," he continued. "But I don't want the government as my nanny. I still have never understood why something as simple as turning it off and controlling children's television access and all the things I try to do in my house are not part of the answer."

If the government does establish restrictions on violent or sexual TV content, Congress - not the FCC - should act. "At least those social judgements are done by people with direct accountability to the public." The same goes for calls to make broadcasters offer free airtime to federal candidates.

Powell also questioned whether there is really a "digital divide" that is leaving minorities and the poor out of the computer and broadband revolution. New technologies almost always are acquired by the wealthy first, he said, but that doesn't mean disadvantaged segments will be left out permanently. "In the early stages of innovation it is going to be the wealthy people who buy $4,000 digital television first," he said. "Does that mean there is an HDTV divide? No. I could say there's a Mercedes divide. I'd like to have one and can't afford it." Powell suggested that the government wait to let the digital market develop and act if segments of society ultimately get bypassed.

Saddling cable systems with Internet open access rules could do more harm than good, new FCC Chairman Michael Powell told reporters yesterday his first press conference since taking the agency's helm. Openness isn't always good," he said. "If openness was always good, nobody would be fighting over copyright protection. I don't like the knee-jerk assumption that it is discrimination for any carrier or provider who wants to maintain some of the advantages," of being first to market. Open access rules now could slow the deployment of cable broadband services.

Powell also rejected consumer advocates call to resurrect cable rate regulation in the wake of rising prices. "There are a lot of downstream reasons for price increases. Programming, by anyone's honest estimation is a big part of what's driving rates," he said.
- Bill McConnell