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FCC gridlock may soon end

Political gridlock at the FCC has stymied much new initiative. With only four members — two Republicans and two Democrats — the prospect of tie votes has delayed consideration of major pending issues.

Last week, President Bush announced a candidate to fill the empty Republican seat. If the Senate confirms Deborah Tate, a director on the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, the FCC will return to a 3-2 Republican majority.

Tate is close to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), the National Journal reported. She once served as an aide to the state’s other senator, Republican Lamar Alexander, when the latter was governor. If confirmed, Tate would serve the remainder of Michael Powell’s five-year term, which ends June 30, 2007.

The White House also nominated Michael J. Copps, a Democrat, to another five-year term at the agency. Copps was first nominated by the Bush administration in May 2001.

Even with the new appointments, the Republican majority could be short-lived. Absent from last week’s announcement was any mention of White House science adviser Richard Russell to fill a second Republican seat. The slot is open because the term of commissioner Kathleen Abernathy, who did not seek reconfirmation, expired in June 2004.

It was reported by the National Journal that President Bush had wanted Russell to fill the slot, but that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) was concerned that Russell is not a strong supporter of the universal service subsidy that funds telecom access in rural and low-income areas — and which is particularly important in Stevens’ sprawling home state of Alaska.

By law, Abernathy, whose term expired nearly a year and a half ago, is slated to leave the commission after Congress adjourns this year. She had previously indicated that she did not want to be re-nominated. If she has to leave the commission before her replacement is picked, the FCC could return to political gridlock.

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