White House officials said yesterday that President Bush plans to nominate a Tennessee utility regulator to the Federal Communications Commission and to reappoint FCC Commissioner Michael Copps to a second term at the agency.
Deborah Taylor Tate, a Republican commissioner on the Tennessee Public Service Commission, is widely seen as supportive of FCC Chairman Kevin Martins deregulatory approach, and her nomi-nation, which requires Senate confirmation, was lauded by incumbent telecommunications operators.
"Quick Senate approval of these nominees will provide Chairman Martin with a team of hard-working individuals who understand the importance of the job theyve been asked to undertake," said Herschel Abbott, vice president of governmental affairs at BellSouth Corp. "We look forward to working with them to be certain that customers will receive all the gains of marketplace and technological realities."
Since the departure of former Chairman Michael Powell in the spring, the five-member com-mission has been left with an even split between two Republicans and two Democrats. Tates nomination would retain the same partisan balance because Republican Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy is expected to leave soon, and the White House has yet to nominate a second Republican to fill the vacancy.
The FCCs agenda is largely occupied by broadcasting issues, but at least two major communications matters are lined up. Over the next year, the commission will likely review the Universal Service Fund sys-tem, which ensures affordable telephone rates for low-income subscribers and subscribers in high-cost areas of the country, and the intercarrier compensation system, which is the process by which service providers pay to use each others networks. Analysts predict Tate would support Martins approach to these issues.
"While it remains to be seen how [Tate] would implement [her] view, the Bells/ILECs and cable are likely to be encouraged," said Blair Levin, analyst with Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. in Washington. "We would expect Ms. Tate, as are other commissioners, to be generally sympathetic to rural telco needs and also likely to be inclined to be supportive of Chairman Martins basic approach."
A commissioners tenure is governed by a somewhat arcane formula. The position comes with a five-year term, but the term resides with the seat rather than the individual who fills it. If confirmed, Tate would fill Powells seat, which expires in June 2007. The seat held by Copps, who has been a commissioner since 2001, expired at the end of June, but a commissioner is permitted to remain in an expired seat until Congress adjourns the following year. If confirmed, Copps will receive a second five-year term that expires in June 2010.
Washington insiders expect the Senate to move expeditiously on the nominations to avoid leaving Martin as the minority voice at the head of a three-member commission. Abernathys seat expired in June 2004, and she made it clear that she did not seek a second term. She must leave when Congress adjourns this year, unless she receives a recess appointment.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include more information from the reporter.