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Martin To Take Over at FCC

Kevin Martin, a four-year veteran of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has been named as the agency's new chairman to replace outgoing head Michael Powell, the Bush administration announced Wednesday.

Martin, who has close ties with the Bush White House, was considered a front-runner in the race to succeed Powell, who is stepping down at the end of this month. As a sitting member of the FCC, Martin will not face a Senate confirmation hearing.

The promotion of Martin from a commissioner to chairman also creates another opening on the FCC for Bush to fill. Former Texas PUC Chairperson Rebecca Klein and attorney Earl Comstock, a former aide to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), are most often mentioned as likely candidates for the position.

"He will soon take a front seat at the technology revolution. His wide knowledge of telecommunication policy issues and insight into the rapidly changing nature of communications technology will serve the agency well," Powell said in a statement congratulating Martin. "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."

Prior to being appointed to the FCC by Bush in 2001, Martin served as a telecommunications lawyer in the White House. He also served on the Bush-Cheney transition team and was deputy general counsel for the Bush campaign.

Martin has been an ally of Powell's deregulatory policies during his tenure on the commission, particularly on Voice over IP issues and the rollout of alternative broadband platforms, such as broadband over power lines. Martin has also butted heads with Powell over policy, such as when he opposed Powell's efforts to loosen regulation on local phone rates.

For FCC-watchers, the appointment wasn't surprising, especially given Martin's ties to the Bush administration.

Analysts such as the telecommunications group at Legg Mason said they didn't expect a material shift in policy as the result of the Martin appointment. Blair Levin, chief analyst in the group and a former FCC staff attorney, said although Martin has disagreed with other commissioners, as well as with Powell on some issues in the past, their differences appeared to "be at the margins" in terms of their positions on issues going forward.

"The big difference, in our view, is the timing of key issues," Levin wrote in a research note Wednesday. "The designation of Martin means the FCC can immediately start the work of bringing in the key staffers to work on pending issues, such as merger reviews, intercarrier compensation, universal service and media ownership."