Senate Committee Grills FCC Nominees

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today heard testimony in favor of two FCC nominees, and wrapped up questioning in hopes the Senate will confirm Democrat Michael J. Copps and Republican Deborah T. Tate before Congress breaks for the holidays.

Copps already serves on the FCC. If he is re-appointed, his term will not expire until 2010. Tate works as director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA); her term would expire in 2007, since she would take the seat vacated by former FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) testified on Tates behalf, while ranking committee member Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) spoke for Copps. Alexander said Tate would bring no particular agenda to the FCC; Inouye praised Copps for his strong, outspoken voice as he has worked to bring communications technologies to tribal lands, rural areas and inner cities.

Committee members then grilled Tate and Copps on issues ranging from the Universal Service Fund and family-tier cable programming to decency legislation and ubiquitous broadband deployment.

The soft-spoken Tate was unable to directly answer many of the questions posed to her. For example, she said she has dealt with telecommunications on a broad scale in her work at the TRA, but could not expound on specifics, such as the Universal Service Fund or a possible rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. She touted herself as a mediator, reassuring the committee that she would bring a spirit of consensus and bipartisanship to the commission.

Due to his tenure at the FCC, Copps fielded the telecom-specific questions asked of him. Members especially wanted to know his position on broadband deployment. Copps, who has visited Indian tribal lands, noted the extreme digital divide and high unemployment rates there. He said the lack of advanced communications in those areas is a glaring national embarrassment, and we need to fix it and fix it now.

The White House still must name a nominee for the seat left empty after Republican Kathleen Q. Abernathy departed from the FCC last week. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) had hoped to confirm three nominees at once and told reporters it was embarrassing that the White House has not responded to his recommendations for filling the remaining chair.



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