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CHALLENGING SUMMER ON HORIZON FOR FCC CHAIRMAN AND AGENCY

WASHINGTON-Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt could be in for a long, hot summer of discontent.

This month Hundt, a Democratic Clinton appointee, faces a hostile group of GOP lawmakers on the House telecommunications subcommittee who want to downsize his 2,200-person agency and perhaps reduce its funding. At the same time, the Republican-controlled Congress is counting on the FCC to implement landmark telecommunications reform legislation moving through the House and Senate.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said he wants to phase out the FCC in three to five years and the conservative Progress and Freedom Foundation think tank Gingrich is associated with has a plan to carry out the task.

“It is fairly obvious that this group has a rhetorical and political mission that pushes their logic beyond the limits of good sense,” said Hundt in a recent speech.

The 47-year-old Hundt, an antitrust litigator prior to taking his current position a year-and-a-half ago, believes there is an important role for the FCC in the communications revolution, since no one knows whether sweeping reforms crafted by Congress actually will bring competition to monopoly markets.

“If we really want competition, you have to have an agency with the resources and the talent and the expertise to promote competition,” said Hundt in an interview with RCR. “That’s us, it’s not any other agency. There isn’t anybody else.” Hundt added, “This is not the right time to be talking about putting us on a starvation diet so that we’ll fade away just when everybody wants us all beefed up and ready to implement fair rules.”

It’s not just Congress that has it in for Hundt. The wireless telecommunications industry has some bones to pick with the FCC chairman as well.

Commercial wireless carriers have been clamoring for months for the commission to set up a new system to administer U.S. telephone numbers. Hundt said the FCC will have a new plan in two months.

Hundt is expected to feel more heat from opponents of the agency’s 800 MHz specialized mobile radio auction proposal, too.

Meanwhile, talk of infighting at the FCC persists. Despite the riff-raff, progress is being made on several major fronts. Hundt said all personal communications services auctions will be completed by year’s end.

The entrepreneur block PCS auction, designed for women, minorities, small businesses and rural telephone companies, is scheduled for Aug. 2. However, the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on affirmative action could put a wrinkle in that plan.

Hundt said the three remaining auctions of 10-megahertz PCS licenses will be held in December and the sale of 900 MHz specialized mobile radio permits next month.

Last week, the FCC was set to adopt a plan revamping private wireless bands below 512 MHz to free more spectrum. The agency also was expected to approve recommendations that would enable the mobile satellite services industry to get more frequencies at this fall’s World Radio Communication Conference in Geneva.

On other issues, Hundt suggested he doesn’t favor the wireless interconnected resale amendment that Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, is expected to bring to the House floor next month.

But Hundt said he does like the idea of the FCC exerting some oversight in antenna siting matters. “I don’t want us to become a national zoning commission and I don’t want us to be intruding on state or local authority, but I do want to make sure that we get to build the information age’s equivalent of the interstate across every state in the country.”

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