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FCC Commissioner Powell Named Chief of Agency

President Bush, as expected, has named Federal Communications Commission member Michael Powell the new chairman of the agency. 

Powell, a member of the commission for the past three years and son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, will replace William Kennard as head of the agency that sets the overall policy for the E-rate program.. As a sitting commissioner, Powell will not require Senate confirmation before assuming his new post.

Powell, a Republican, has not been as critical of the E-rate program as has his fellow Republican commissioner, Harold Furchgott-Roth. However, in May 1999, the last time the commission voted in public to set the program's funding cap at $2.25 billion, he dissented in part from the commission's decision to do so.

At the time, Powell said, "Regrettably. . .I remain uncomfortable with much of the program's structure and parameters. And, today, I am uncomfortable with the funding increase that the majority will adopt. I am unsure that the funding increase is actually needed as opposed to just wanted."

Drawing a parallel to "Field of Dreams" and the "build it and they will come" mentality, he said, "As one would expect, we built a large federal program and they have come. Indeed, shame on any school that has not acted aggressively to take advantage of this federal generosity. But how do we know, or distinguish, within that infinite demand, real need from want, even for the poorest schools?"

At the time, when the demand for Year 2 funding was projected to be $2.435 billion, Powell supported maintaining the funding cap at $1.9 billion for 12 months, the amount that was available for the 18 months of the first funding year. But the three Democratic commissioners voted instead to cap the fund at $2.25 billion.

When the Schools and Libraries Division finished reviewing applications that had been submitted during the filing window that year, it had committed only $1.92 billion, making it possible for applicants who had filed outside of the window to receive funding. The following year, the SLD reported, demand soared to $4.72 billion.

Before being nominated to the commission by President Clinton in 1997, Powell served as chief of staff of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

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