Powell Signals Change At FCC

New agency chairman plans to review internal procedures, move aggressively to streamline rules

Less than a month after taking the helm of the Federal Communications Commission, Chairman Michael Powell appears to be trying to change the course of an unwieldy bureaucracy to create a faster-moving and more responsive agency.

And with at least three of the five commissioner seats awaiting new occupants, the agency is poised for change.

Long known for the high priority he places on process, Powell will take the opportunity of the first public meeting under his chairmanship this week to address agency procedures.

Historically, the FCCs monthly public meeting is devoted to voting on regulations, but sending a strong signal about his agenda, Powell indicated he will spend the meeting reviewing internal policies and calling on chiefs of the bureaus and offices to report on their internal management procedures.

The climate for telecommunications policy has been largely deregulatory since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 became law, but with a Republican administration and a Republican majority in Congress, initiatives to streamline FCC rules are expected to move more aggressively, according to industry observers. Few people in business—either the business of providing telecom services or the business of using them—take issue with the notion of a downsized telecom bureaucracy.

"As far as the objective is concerned, I think support for [streamlining FCC processes] would be universal," said Arthur Fasse, contract administration manager at Ford Motor Co., in Dearborn, Mich. "The concern that all parties might have, perhaps, is that in moving too quickly, there are greater risks."

In the field of long-distance phone service, for example, enterprise users have benefited from downward price pressure resulting from competition among IXCs (Interexchange Carriers). Now, there is considerable momentum to allow Regional Bell Operating Companies to move more swiftly into long-distance services, though users have expressed concerns about traditional IXCs being driven out of the voice business.

"Right now, as far as interstate rates are concerned, voice services are very competitive," said Fasse, who serves on the telecom policy committee of the International Communications Association. "But right around the corner youve got [RBOCs] who are pressing hard to get into that business. There is a risk there that it would create serious financial difficulties for the long-distance carriers in the long run."

Meanwhile, the commission awaits nominees from the White House to fill the seat vacated by former Chairman William Powell and the seats soon to be left by commissioners Susan Ness and Harold Furchtgott-Roth. Ness sought a second term and was reappointed by President Clinton, but she was not given a Senate confirmation hearing. In December, Clinton granted her a recess appointment, which will expire in October at the close of this congressional session. Furchtgott-Roth did not seek a second term.