Powells eight-year tenure at the FCC will end later this month, and the speech here represented his last public talk in an industry he helped champion. Attendees here said they respected Powell, appointed as the commissions chairman by a conservative President Bush in 2001, for the line he walked between letting the free market guide policy and stepping in to protect consumers.
In addition to the indecency fines Powell levied against broadcasters, he was also known for his "four freedoms," which he said should guide regulatory policy: the ability to freely access legal content, the freedom to access any application, the freedom to attach personal devices to the network, and the freedom to receive a detailed description of service-plan information. All four freedoms coalesced within VOIP (voice over IP).
"My nearly eight years at the FCC is coming to a close, but I can think of no place other than VON to deliver my swan song," Powell said. "VOIP is so clearly the standard for what I fought so hard to achieve."
Consumers have benefited by the low cost of voice-over-IP services in the United States, trimming substantial amounts off of consumers long-distance bills. That said, Powell noted that one of the more interesting and lucrative services is Microsofts Xbox Live, a monthly service that allows Xbox console users to game—and talk—over the Internet.
Those cost savings also have had an impact overseas. Mahesh Chithrappa, a manager for networking and communications at software developer Tata Elxsi Ltd. in Bangalore, India, said his company uses VOIP for conference calls and is looking at a more general VOIP system.
"The success [of VOIP] came home to me walking in an electronics store a short time ago," Powell said. "As I was walking, I came to the end of the aisle and looked up. I saw shelves of Wi-Fi and home-networking equipment, and I nodded.
"I saw kiosks with DSL, cable modem service and even power-line equipment. I saw consumers poring over TiVo and iPods and even hi-def television sets. Then I saw a most remarkable new shelf close by, with boxes of a new phone service—VOIP—and I had to smile."