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If new Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell has a role model, it may be Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, the Star Trek surgeon who was known for exclaiming he was a doctor, not a bricklayer, magician or any other type of expert. Powell, in his first press conference since becoming chairman last month, said Tuesday that he was just a “humble lawyer” and ducked questions on a variety of topics by noting that he was not an engineer, a social scientist, an educator, a market analyst or an elected official. His predecessor, Democrat William Kennard, promoted an elaborate social agenda to send subsidies to schools and libraries for Internet connections, foster low-power FM radio stations for community groups and promote online connections for the poor to address the perceived “digital divide.” When asked Tuesday about each of these programs, Powell had little to say, adding that Congress and the White House should decide whether and how to promote such social goals. “Congress and the people’s representatives can debate it any way they want to and my job principally is to implement what they choose.” That was a far cry from Kennard, who tirelessly defended the programs as necessary counterweights to industry consolidation and the deployment of cutting-edge communications services mainly in wealthy neighborhoods. Powell expressed great skepticism about government programs addressing the digital divide. “It shouldn’t be used to justify the notion of the socialization of the deployment of the infrastructure,” he said, quipping: “I think there’s a Mercedes divide and I’d like to have mine, but I can’t afford it.” Instead of boosting those programs, the 37-year-old lawyer and son of Secretary of State Colin Powell said he would look to reduce regulatory burdens and reorganize the FCC to be more efficient. “I do not believe deregulation is like a dessert that you serve after people have fed on their vegetables,” Powell said. Instead, reducing regulation is “a critical ingredient to facilitating competition.” Powell dodged a question on one of the leading regulatory issues now being considered by the FCC. Asked whether the agency should require cable companies to lease their high-speed Internet lines to competitors, as telephone companies must do, Powell said “maybe.” “It is a very hard question. I really believe it’s one of the hardest questions I’ve seen,” he said. The FCC has for several years declined to impose such a requirement on the cable industry, but in a review of the merger of America Online and Time Warner the agency required the companies to share their high-speed lines with competitors. Powell dissented from imposing the access requirement on AOL Time Warner, saying it was not appropriate in a merger context. The agency is collecting comments on the issue, but no decisions or proposals are expected for months. On the slow transition TV broadcasters are going through to move from analog to digital technologies, Powell said the FCC should clarify the legal and regulatory environment, but added that primary responsibility rested with the industry and the marketplace. “The vast portion of the digital-TV transition and whether it succeeds or fails does not rest in the hands of the government,” he said. Powell also defended the deregulation of cable-TV rates included in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, despite the fact that monthly cable bills have risen faster than the rate of inflation for the past four years. “That’s what markets do,” he said. “If [programs] are that valuable to consumers, consumers will be willing to pay for them and they seem to.” Related Articles from The Industry Standard: Another Powell for Bush Kennard’s Instant Message Bush to Do Tech’s Bidding Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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