President Bush on April 6 announced the nominations of three new commissioners to the agency that will shape how schools and other consumers get new high-speed web connections, wireless technologies, digital television, and other services.
If confirmed by the Senate, the three will give the Federal Communications Commission a Republican majority so that it can push ahead on several important items awaiting action.
Those include a review of rules that limit what broadcast stations can own and how much airwave space a wireless company can have in a particular market. FCC Chairman Michael Powell has said that such restrictions must be justified in today’s competitive markets, suggesting that the rules may be relaxed or eliminated.
Bush’s nominees to fill two GOP slots are Kevin Martin and Kathleen Abernathy, who would serve until 2006 and 2005, respectively. Both are former staffers at the commission. Martin more recently worked on Bush’s campaign as deputy general counsel.
The president said he would nominate Michael Copps to a Democratic seat on the panel. Copps is a former aide to Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. His term would expire in 2004.
If confirmed, the three nominees “will bring important experience and expertise to the Commission and I welcome the opportunity to carry out the responsibilities of the FCC with them,” Powell said.
The Bush administration will likely have one more seat to fill at the FCC. Current Commissioner Gloria Tristani, a Democrat, is expected to leave by year’s end. House Democrats would like to see Andrew Levin, minority counsel to the Commerce Committee, in that spot.
Public interest groups said the GOP nominees are experienced Washington hands.
“What we will want to know is whether they will be willing to enforce the law as written,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the public interest firm Media Access Project. “Many deregulators have been all too willing to bend congressional directives.”
The agency should have five commissioners total, with the majority going to the party of the current White House administration.