FCC Chairman Michael Powell will resign today, according to reports from multiple news sources.

Often criticized by many for his positions on landline competition, media ownership and indecency, Powell’s wireless philosophies generally are credited for the bureau’s spectrum policies that encouraged the development of technologies such as Wi-Fi and ultrawideband.

Powell’s most-publicized work came in 800 MHz proceeding designed to prevent commercial wireless carriers from interfering with other users in the band—specifically, public-safety entities. After being disparaged for not moving on the issue sooner, Powell eventually led the negotiations on a unanimously approved order that calls for Nextel Communications to pay for the rebanding of 800 MHz frequencies, provide Nextel with contiguous spectrum that many believe led to its merger announcement with Sprint and secured additional spectrum for public safety.

None of the stories cited any reasons for the resignation the day after President George W. Bush’s inauguration. Speculation about Powell leaving the FCC had been rampant for more than a year, but many analysts expected him to continue as chairman through this spring in hopes of addressing several pending issues at the agency.

“I’m totally surprised,” said telecom regulatory analyst Andy Regitsky, president of Regitsky & Associates, who said he expected Powell to leave in June. “I find this very, very strange.”

Powell’s departure leaves the commission with two Republicans—Kevin Martin and Kathleen Abernathy—and two Democrats—Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

Both Martin and Abernathy have been mentioned as possible successors to Powell, but many analysts believe the next chairman will come from outside the agency. Top candidates are believed to be Becky Klein, a former head of the Texas Public Utility Commission; Michael Gallagher of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; and Janice Obuchowski, a telecom consultant who served in the Commerce Department under the first President Bush. Other names mentioned include former Interstate Commerce Commission Chairman Darius Gaskins and former Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jim Miller.