I am going to miss FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who announced last month he would step down effective March 31 (see story on page 7). As MRT Senior Writer Donny Jackson recounted in the Jan. 21 edition of MRT Bulletin, our weekly electronic newsletter, Powell oversaw a vast improvement of the FCC's engineering department during his tenure, which has helped the commission make better-informed decisions.

He also championed much-needed spectrum allocation reform and shepherded the process that resulted in the FCC ordering Nextel to reband the 800 MHz airwaves to solve interference that plagues public-safety communications across the nation.

While the FCC's order is one that would be endorsed by King Solomon if he were with us today, I'm more impressed with the commission's approach to the challenge than I am by the outcome. It would have been very easy for the FCC to cave in to the demands of public-safety leaders and Nextel, both of whom wanted the commission to quickly adopt the so-called Consensus Plan. That solution also would have forced Nextel to reband but provided no guarantees as to what it would cost nor who would pony up the difference if those costs exceeded the $850 million pledged by Nextel.

The argument offered by the first-responder community in support of quick adoption was compelling — the longer the interference continued in the 800 MHz band, the more likely a police officer, firefighter or emergency medical technician would be killed in the line of duty because his or her radio didn't key properly. Policymakers generally like to avoid getting blood on their hands, so many expected the FCC would succumb quickly to the pressures being put upon it by public safety and influential members of Congress who jumped on the bandwagon.

Instead, the FCC held firm and continued to gather evidence. In the past, I have accused the commission of being sloth-like in its approach to policy-making, but in this instance, it would be more accurate to describe the FCC as steadfast. In the end, patience turned out to be a virtue because the FCC's 800 MHz order is a much better deal for public safety — and the American public — than the Consensus Plan.

Michael Powell was the driving force behind the FCC's resolve. I have covered him and the commission for the past four years, and while I believe Powell certainly made his share of mistakes in that time, I also believe he always acted out of conviction, not expedience. It's a trait that should at least be respected, if not admired. Hopefully, it is a trait that will be shared by the the next FCC chairman.