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FCC's Powell Drawing Criticism For Handling Of Telecom Industry Mess
Fri Aug 09 2002 10:34:18 ET

No industry has been more battered by financial woes and corporate scandal than telecom. Companies like WorldCom and Global Crossing have come to symbolize high-tech high jinks and accounting gimmicks, BUSINESS WEEK reports in fresh editions.

But while regulators such as Securities & Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey L. Pitt and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission boss Patrick H. Wood III morph from corporate puppies to aggressive watchdogs, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael K. Powell seems to be sticking with the kinder, gentler approach.

In the midst of a $2 trillion meltdown in telecommunications, Powell has not deviated from the hands-off course he charted at the beginning of his tenure two years ago.

Arguing that telecom's woes are caused by market forces outside the FCC's control, he still pursues his original agenda: Spurring broadband by deregulating the Baby Bells and relaxing rules limiting concentration of media ownership.

Now, Powell's "single-mindedness has begun to attract critics. Democrats such as Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND) accuse him of doing little to protect consumers and failing to develop a plan to revive the battered industry." Powell said, "The problems...are more profound than soothing words from one leader can solve. I'm not going to solve a $34 billion debt problem of a major carrier just because I express optimism in its future."

The mag adds, "Still, a growing number of business reps say he hasn't been vocal enough in reassuring panicked investors." In addition, local phone companies "such as Verizon Communications and SBC Communications claim Powell hasn't addressed the possible domino effect on the industry if WorldCom can't pay for connections to local networks."


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