Robert M. McDowell looks to be a shoo-in for fifth commissioners seat at the FCC. The Senate Commerce Committee today held a brief hearing on McDowells nomination and Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he plans to take McDowells name to the full Senate on March 16 for full confirmation.
One of the committees biggest concerns was whether McDowell would recuse himself from proceedings such as the upcoming decision on the expected AT&T Inc.-BellSouth Corp. merger. As a lawyer for the competitive association COMPTEL, McDowell has opposed megamergers, although, he clarified today, he has not argued cases before the FCC in several years. McDowell told senators he would consult with the FCCs general counsel in deciding when it would be appropriate for him to remove himself from certain matters.
The president, McDowell said, is asking me to be a fair thorough, thoughtful adjudicator, arbiter and policymaker. I will prejudge nothing and ask that my ability to be partial not be prejudged.
McDowell, a Republican, would round out an FCC that has lacked a majority for a year. By law, the party controlling the White House is given three of the commission’s five seats. McDowells presence would give Chairman Kevin J. Martin three Republicans, leaving Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein as the minority Democrats. Deborah T. Tate has served on the commission for two months; she came to Washington, D.C., from the Tennessee Regulatory Authority.
McDowell faced few questions from the Senate panel. Stevens, who has publicly stated his support for McDowell, did ask the nominee whether he holds bipartisan views on communications policy.
Theres not a partisan gigabyte, theres not a partisan megahertz, McDowell replied, adding he would not view his work at the FCC through a partisan lens. Stevens also pressed McDowell for his ideas for reform of the Universal Service Fund (USF). Stevens plans to include USF changes in a telecom rewrite and wants commissioners to be aware of his concerns, particularly since his state receives most of the monies. McDowell said the USF is a major priority for him and said he wants all parts of the country, from rural areas and tribal lands to inner cities, to have the same access to information as the rest of the United States.