Senators to OK FCC Heads

With change may come improved relations between lawmakers and FCC.

Ushering in what appears to be an era of improved relations between lawmakers and telecommunications regulators, U.S. senators overseeing the Federal Communications Commission this week will consider three new commissioners for the five-seat agency.

In preliminary interviews before Congress, all three nominees stressed cooperation and restraint, suggesting that the new commissioners will differ from their predecessors, who often interpreted their authority broadly and clashed with lawmakers.

Setting the stage for friendlier dialogue, the nominees—Democrat Michael Copps and Republicans Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin—stressed to members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last week that they intend to follow the will of Congress. The nominees emphasis on strict adherence to congressional directives echoes a major theme expressed by new FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

Copps, assuring the senators that he has a "deep and lasting loyalty" to the legislative branch of government, said he could not imagine being effective at the FCC without a close and cooperative relationship with Congress.

Abernathy told the committee that "fundamentally, it is the commissions responsibility to administer and implement communications policy as set forth by Congress," echoing committee Chairman John McCains directive to the nominees.

Noting congressional criticism of the previous commissions for over-interpreting authority, Martin got approving nods and chuckles from the committee when he cited the virtue he learned from his mother in "talking a little bit less and listening a little bit more."

An FCC that interprets its authority narrowly will likely mean a more stable regulatory environment and greater predictability in rule-makings. Litigation over some past FCC regulations has dampened financial support for emerging technologies, delaying service deployment, officials said. In Powells estimation, regulatory certainty should spur further investment in telecommunications networks.

Also considering the renomination of Powell to a second term (although his first term does not end for more than a year), committee members grilled the chairman on how to improve local competition as well as on a variety of other telecom and mass media issues. ´