Throughout his four years as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Michael K. Powell zealously touted a future filled with technologies competing to provide new ways to communicate and get information, from souped-up wireless devices to online access via power lines.
Some of these are now coming to pass. As a result, whole industries are being upended. Cable companies are now also phone companies, phone companies want to provide video, and an entire regulatory scheme is in flux.
But many analysts say Powell -- who yesterday announced his resignation -- is leaving before many crucial details have been worked out. Those details will affect the choices consumers are likely to have and the prices they will have to pay.
Those tasks will fall to Powell's successor and a reconstituted FCC. Already, the agency is grappling with several initiatives and federal court disputes that include whether cable companies must open their lines to competing Internet providers and how much nudity and profanity is appropriate on television and radio.
In addition, new leaders of House and Senate oversight committees have said they want to reexamine the nation's telecommunications and media laws. They have not, however, laid out specifics.
The coming period will see "a legislative and administrative donnybrook" because of all the unresolved issues, predicted Mark N. Cooper, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America.
During Powell's term, the FCC rolled back rules that required telephone companies to share their networks at discounted rates with firms providing competing local telephone service.
The phone companies want the FCC to go further, freeing them from requirements that allow competing Internet providers to use phone networks to provide high-speed online access over telephone lines, a service called DSL.
That would put the phone companies on equal footing with cable operators.
But FCC rules giving cable such freedom were overturned by a federal court. The FCC has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear the case in March.