Bush chooses Martin as next FCC chairman

Republican commissioner is expected to wield influence during period of radical change in the telecom and Net business.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
3 min read
Kevin Martin
FCC's next chairman
Kevin Martin
FCC's next chairman

Martin, an FCC commissioner who was appointed chairman by President Bush on Wednesday afternoon, will be responsible for shepherding the agency through a major revision to U.S. telecommunications laws and an upswing in telephone calling over the Internet.

"I am deeply honored to have been designated as the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and I thank President Bush for this distinct privilege," Martin said. Bush's choice of Martin, a 38-year-old lawyer who once worked for the Bush-Cheney campaign, was expected.

While Martin occasionally clashed with fellow Republican Michael Powell, the outgoing chairman, observers said the FCC's general approach toward broadband regulation and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is likely to follow the same broad principles.

Many of the FCC's technology-related decisions, such as a 5-0 ruling last year dealing with VoIP wiretapping, were unanimous. Others, such as media ownership and VoIP regulation, tended to pit the Republican majority against the Democratic minority--a political dynamic not viewed as likely to change.

After news of Martin's new job leaked on Wednesday, accolades soon followed. Martin "has a record of supporting the administration's broadband policy, and that is good news for consumers and the communications sector," said Tom Tauke, Verizon Communications executive vice president for public affairs.

Herschel Abbott, BellSouth's vice president for governmental affairs, said Martin's "focus on enabling the rollout of broadband for consumers demonstrates a 21st century view of the communications marketplace. His skill and energy make him an outstanding choice to take over the chairmanship."

Where battle lines were drawn
One area of sharp disagreement between Martin and Powell involved a hotly contested February 2003 decision over how to promote competition among the former Bell companies and their rivals. The two FCC commissioners agreed on broadband rules but split over whether telephone companies must grant rivals access to their networks at deeply discounted rates.

Another difference is that while Powell has been criticized for a crackdown on broadcast indecency following Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," Martin has been even more aggressive in urging FCC action.

Martin dissented from the FCC's January ruling, which cleared a broadcast of "Saving Private Ryan" from indecency fines. In a letter to the Parents Television Council, Martin wrote, "We may be interpreting the (indecency) statute too narrowly. We also may need to

enforce our rules more stringently." (L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Parents Television Council, endorsed Martin as chairman in January.)

Revisiting a 1996 telecommunications law
The FCC chairmanship will be unusually important in the next few years, as Congress mulls over revisiting the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which was not written with the Internet era in mind. On Wednesday, for instance, one House of Representatives committee convened a hearing titled "How Internet Protocol-Enabled Services are Changing the Face of Communications."

At the hearing, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Tex., said VoIP was so disruptive that it was time to rewrite the 1996 law. "This year, it's my intention to...craft legislation that reflects how much technology has changed the communications industry," Barton said.

Among the questions Barton said his legislation would address: Should VoIP companies be required to pay "universal service" taxes? Must VoIP firms be legally required to provide some form of e911 services? Should state governments be allowed to regulate, and perhaps even set prices for, VoIP services?

"As chairman of the commission, Kevin Martin can be an articulate spokesman for the view that Congress needs to reform the communications laws," said Randy May, a former FCC lawyer now at the free-market Progress & Freedom Foundation. "That really does require a new vision for communications policy and in fact for the FCC itself."

Some of May's colleagues had lined up behind Intel lobbyist Peter Pitsch, a former FCC lawyer who was seen as a dark-horse candidate for the chairman position. But Martin seemed to enjoy the broadest support.

Rhett Dawson, the president of the Information Technology Industry Council, wrote a letter to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card endorsing Martin.

Martin supported the "removal of regulatory obstacles and introduction of competition into the broadband marketplace must occur if broadband is to reach its promise," Dawson wrote in the Feb. 7 letter.