Bush names Martin new FCC chairman

Former special assistant to Bush appointed to replace departing chairman Michael Powell

U.S. President George Bush on Wednesday announced that he will appoint former advisor Kevin Martin to be the new chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the telecommunications and broadcast industries.

Bush named Martin, a member of the FCC since 2001, to replace departing chairman Michael Powell, the White House announced Wednesday. Martin, a former special assistant to Bush for economic policy and a lawyer for the Bush 2000 campaign, has at times disagreed with Powell about how far the deregulation of incumbent local telecom carriers should go.

Martin, in February 2003, parted with fellow Republicans Powell and Kathleen Abernathy in voting to allow states to decide whether parts of the so-called unbundled network element pricing (UNE-P) rules should remain in place. The FCC's UNE-P rules required the incumbent local carriers, often called the regional Bells, to share parts of their networks with competitors at discounted prices as a way to foster competition. Powell had argued the rules were outdated and discouraged network investment by the Bells, which inherited large chunks of their networks after the government breakup of the old AT&T in 1984.

Although parts of that UNE-P decision were later struck down in court, Martin had called for a "balanced approach" to UNE-P and deregulation.

Martin, in a statement, said he was "deeply honored" to be appointed chairman. "I look forward to working with the administration, Congress, my colleagues, and the FCC's talented staff to ensure that American consumers continue to enjoy the benefits of the best communications system in the world," he said.

Bush's decision was cheered by the telecom industry. Tom Tauke, executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications at Verizon Communications Inc., praised Martin even though the regional Bell has disagreed with him on UNE-P.

"Commissioner Martin has an excellent grasp of the issues, knows how to move the FCC's decision-making processes, and can hit the ground running as the new chairman," Tauke said in a statement. "He has a record of supporting the administration's broadband policy, and that is good news for consumers and the communications sector. This is a challenging time to lead the FCC, and I certainly believe he is up to the task."

CompTel/ALTS, a trade group representing competitors to Verizon and the other regional Bells, also praised Martin's appointment, calling him the "best possible candidate" for the job. "Kevin Martin has earned a reputation as a thoughtful, fair and open-minded individual, and he has always been willing to listen to all perspectives of an issue to reach the right conclusion," H. Russell Frisby, chief executive of CompTel/ALTS, said in a statement.

Powell, in a statement, also congratulated Martin. "He will soon take a front seat at the technology revolution," Powell said. "His wide knowledge of telecommunication policy issues and insight into the rapidly changing nature of communications technology will serve the agency well. Ultimately, everything the FCC does must serve the public interest and benefit consumers, and I am confident he will be vigilant in pursuing these goals."

Martin's appointment will leave a new opening at the FCC. Bush has not announced Martin's replacement. New members of the FCC must be confirmed by the Senate, but Martin's appointment to chairman does not require Senate confirmation.