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DEMOCRATS UNHAPPY OVER LACK OF RURAL REPRESENTATION AT FCC

WASHINGTON-Key Senate Democrats have threatened to block a package of Federal Communications Commission nominees because they do not represent rural America.

In an April 15 letter to White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) expressed anger that the package of FCC nominees being negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and the administration does not include anybody with a rural background.

“It is absolutely critical to us that rural America not be adversely impacted under the new (telecommunications ) law and we believe that it is very important that at least one member of the FCC have strong rural credentials and have a clear grasp on how universal service and competition will affect rural consumers,” stated the two lawmakers.

Dorgan and Kerrey are among 15 senators pushing the nomination of Christopher McLean, a legal adviser to Kerrey who specializes in telecom policy. In January, a group of rural Senate Democrats wrote to President Clinton in support of McLean.

The package of FCC nominees in play includes one Democrat, FCC General Counsel William Kennard, and two Republicans, House Commerce Committee aide Harold Furchtgott-Roth and Micheal Powell, chief of staff to acting Justice Department antitrust chief Joel Klein and son of retired Gen. Colin Powell.

In addition to not having rural roots, there are no state regulators among the inside-the-Beltway FCC candidates being floated.

One Democratic seat opened last June when veteran Commissioner James Quello’s term expired. Quello continues to serve on the FCC.

Another could open this summer, if FCC Chairman Reed Hundt resigns before serving out his term through June 30, 1998. Hundt reportedly backs William Kennard, FCC general counsel, to fill one FCC Democratic vacancy.

On the Republican side, former Commissioner Andrew Barrett’s seat has been vacant for more than a year and Commissioner Rachelle Chong’s term ends next month. Chong lost her fight for reappointment, but she intends to serve until a successor is named and confirmed by the Senate.

“While not casting any judgments about their individual abilities and qualifications to serve the administration, we will oppose this package on the grounds that this package of nominees will not create a commission that represents all of America,” Dorgan and Kerrey said.

The two senators said “the White House ought to consult with Senate Democrats before making a final decision on nominations to the commission.”

An administration source said the FCC nomination process is moving forward.

Another name bandied about for FCC chairman is Kathleen Wallman, deputy director of the National Economic Council and former Common Carrier Bureau chief at the FCC.

Last week, the name of Ralph Everett, former Senate Commerce Committee chief counsel, surfaced as another possible Democratic FCC candidate with rural ties.

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