FCC Nomination Tips Scales to Right

President Bush plans to nominate Tennessee utility regulator Deborah Taylor
Tate to fill one of the vacant Republican slots on the five-person Federal
Communications Commission (FCC).

Tate’s appointment, subject to Senate approval, will restore the
3-2 Republican majority.

When Michael Powell resigned as
chairman of the FCC in March, Republican Commissioner Kevin Martin was
promoted to head the agency, which created a vacancy on the panel. Since then,
Martin has had to deal with an evenly split FCC of two Republicans and two

Tate, 49, currently serves as director of the Tennessee Regulatory
Authority, which regulates the state’s privately owned telephone companies
and utilities.

In 2003, Powell appointed Tate to the FCC’s Federal-State
Joint Conference on Advanced Telecommunications Services. Previously she
served as assistant legal counsel to former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, who now serves the state as a senator.

“If confirmed, Debi Tate will be an excellent addition to the Commission,” Martin said in a statement released early Wednesday evening. “She has a distinguished career in state government, and she has worked
closely with the Commission in her role as director of the Tennessee
Regulatory Authority.”

Although Tate’s appointment will return a Republican majority to the FCC,
the advantage may be short-lived.

Republican Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy
is expected to step down as soon as the end of the year. Bush has not
nominated a successor to Abernathy.

In addition to the Tate nomination, Bush nominated Democrat Michael Copps, who has served as an FCC commissioner since 2001, for another term.

The former chief of
Staff to Sen. Ernest Hollings, Copps often clashed with Powell over the
direction of telecommunications policy and regulation. If approved by the
Senate, Copps’s new term will expire in 2010.

“He has served admirably at the Commission for the past four years,” Martin said, “and I respect his insight and thoughtfulness on issues before the Commission.”

The even split between Republicans and Democrats has forced Martin to
compromise on a number of issues, most notably in the recent FCC approval
of the SBC-AT&T and Verizon-MCI mergers.

Martin wanted the deals approved with no regulatory strings attached, but,
lacking a majority, he had to accommodate Democrat demands for the nation’s
two largest incumbent telephone companies to sell standalone DSL and to
maintain peering agreements with other Internet backbone providers.

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