The FCC Under Fire

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Populist outrage is threatening to undo a controversial effort by the FCC to loosen restraints on media megaliths. In the Senate last week, seven Republicans joined 28 Democrats to schedule a rare "resolution of disapproval" to overturn new FCC rules that would let companies like News Corp. and Viacom expand their media holdings in local markets. Then in the House, defecting Republicans fueled a 40-to-25 committee vote to reverse part of the FCC's action. Now it appears that the chief architect of those rules, FCC chairman Michael Powell, may not stick around for the fight. According to industry sources, the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell has told confidants he'd like to leave by fall, and three of his four top staff members are putting out job feelers. (Powell has denied he's leaving soon.) His most likely replacement, sources say, is either Rebecca Klein, who is head of the Texas public-utility commission and was on the staff of Governor George W. Bush, or FCC commissioner Kevin Martin, who helped the Bush team count votes in Florida in 2000.

Powell rammed through the new rules—allowing a single company to own TV stations that reach up to 45% of the national market, an increase from the old 35% cap, and lifting the ban on a company's owning both a newspaper and a TV station in the same market—on a party-line vote in June. But groups as disparate as the National Organization for Women and the National Rifle Association are decrying the move. In a new Pew Research poll, respondents most familiar with the FCC's action opposed it by roughly 10 to 1. Still, it has the support of key g.o.p. leaders, and President Bush has threatened to veto any bill overturning it.

Republicans who are breaking ranks on the issue face growing party pressure. On the morning of the vote, Congressman Zach Wamp, a Republican from Tennessee who voted to kill the FCC plan, spotted House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin, who backs it. "I kind of ducked to the left," he said, "went around a column and down three flights of stairs."

— With reporting by Eric Roston