WASHINGTON -Federal Communications Commission member Kevin Martin, a lawyer with close ties to the White House, was elevated Wednesday by President Bush to chairman of the agency that regulates the nation's airwaves.
Martin, 38, replaces Michael Powell, a generally pro-business chairman who oversaw the agency's crackdown on broadcast indecency.
Powell, son of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, had announced in January that he was leaving this month after four years as the nation's top regulator of phone, broadcast, Internet and other telecommunications services.
Martin is viewed as more soft-spoken and cerebral than Powell. The two haven't always seen eye to eye on issues, most notably in 2003 when Martin sided with the five-member FCC's two Democrats on a key vote over phone competition rules.
Still, Martin issued a statement in which he praised Powell and said he looks forward to "continuing his efforts in bringing the communications industry into the 21st century."
Gene Kimmelman, senior policy director at Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, has criticized the FCC as being too pro-business under Powell. Martin and Powell have a "similar set of values, which are not always in tune with consumer interests," Kimmelman said.
Martin is more pragmatic and may be more open to consumer concerns, Kimmelman said.
Martin, born in Charlotte, N.C., worked as deputy general counsel on Bush's first campaign and then was an economic adviser to the president before being named to the FCC in 2001.
His wife, Catherine, is a special assistant to the president on economic policy and has worked as an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.
By picking a sitting commissioner, Bush avoids a potentially lengthy Senate confirmation process. However, he still must fill the vacancy created by Powell's departure, a position that requires Senate approval. Until that happens, the commission will have two Republicans and two Democrats.
Martin takes over at a time when the Internet is reshaping telecommunications. Internet-based phone service, an option growing in popularity as technology improves, is among the emerging issues facing Martin and the FCC.
Other tough topics the FCC likely will have to confront soon are whether to approve a spate of phone industry mega-mergers and reworking media ownership rules that were thrown out by the courts.
Edward Fritts, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, hailed Martin as someone with "a deep understanding and appreciation for the value of local broadcasting."
Martin has been supportive of the FCC's crackdown on indecency. Fines for indecent programming exceeded $7.7 million last year. Four years ago, FCC fines totaled just $48,000.
Critics likes Paul Levinson, a Fordham University communications professor, blasted Martin for having "a blatant disrespect for the First Amendment. He's been a most vociferous critic."
L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, a conservative entertainment industry watchdog group, said Martin's record on indecency "shows his commitment to serving the public interest."
Besides Powell's seat, another vacancy would occur if commissioner Kathleen Abernathy leaves the FCC. She has indicated she would like to leave soon.
A possible candidate to fill a vacancy is Earl Comstock, a former aide to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that oversees telecom issues. Stevens has recommended Comstock to the White House.
Other names that could be considered include Assistant Commerce Secretary Michael Gallagher, who is also head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; former Texas utilities regulator Rebecca Armendariz Klein; and Pat Wood, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.