What Lies Ahead for the Federal Communications Commission? under Chairman Michael Powell, the FCC Will Be Pushing a Conservative Agenda concerning Regulation and Deregulation in Telecommunications. (Mass Media)

Article excerpt

WITH ADVANCED technology on the horizon, the future holds great promise for telecommunications. However, the Federal Communications Commission will determine what technology and when it will reach the public. Three newly appointed members will help direct telecommunications over the next several years. Appointed by Pres. Bush, Republicans Kevin Martin and Kathleen Abernathy as well as Democrat Michael Copps bring expertise and experience to the FCC and will work well with Chairman Michael Powell. This "new" FCC has the rare opportunity not only to streamline its operations, but to eliminate the procedural backlog of work, implement long-overdue changes and improvements in communications, and confront the many pressing issues.

In June, 1999, Martin left the staff of FCC commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth, where he specialized in telephone issues, to join the Bush campaign as deputy general counsel. As an election advisor, he helped the many Republican lawyers during the legal battle over the Florida vote recount. After the election, he was an important member of the Bush transition team and served as a special assistant to the President for economic policy.

Martin graduated from Harvard Law School in 1993 and clerked for U.S. District Court Judge William Hoeveler. He then joined the law finn of Wiley, Rein, & Fielding, one of Washington's top telecommunications firms, where he focused on broadcasting clients. Martin has a knowledge of how the FCC works, what the Republicans want, and how to get along with broadcasters. He will work well with Powell and assist him in moving toward deregulation.

A last-minute nominee when the Republicans decided they needed a woman on the Commission, Abernathy, an attorney with FCC experience, served as a common-carrier and telecommunications advisor to former commissioners Sherrie Marshall and James Quello. An expert in broadband deployment, rights-of-way issues, and deregulation, she has been a telecommunications regulator, lawyer, and lobbyist for several years. Despite having worked for both wireless and telephone companies, her objectivity and fairness will prevail in conflicts.

Abernathy has the experience, expertise, and ability to balance a communications public-interest obligation with her belief that overregulation hampers the industry. In her first statement after confirmation, she cautioned that the FCC should be extremely careful that government roles do not slow technological development so as to prevent or delay new products and services from reaching consumers.

Copps was formerly administrative assistant to Pres. Bill Clinton. For 15 years, he served as an aide to Sen. Ernest Hollings (D.S.C.), and ultimately headed Hollings' personal staff. As the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, Hollings supported Copps for the FCC position.

Although he has little experience with communication issues, Copps has impressive administrative credentials. Besides serving as Hollings' aide (1970-85), he was director of government affairs for the Collins and Aikman Corporation (1985-88), legislative counsel for the American Meat Institute (1989-93), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Basic Industries (1993-98), and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Trade Development (1998-2001).

Copps has had little to say since his appointment. However, in working with several thorny issues for the Clinton Administration, he remained unbiased and fair. As a Democrat, he is not expected to follow Powell, Martin, and Abernathy concerning deregulation.

During his three years as a commissioner, Powell made several speeches concerning deregulation and the free market. Now, as FCC chairman, he undoubtedly will champion deregulation more emphatically as a major item on his agenda. He will be opposed by a majority of Democrats, but his work for deregulation will please most Republicans and enhance his political ambitions. …