Who are these guys, anyway?
Regulators go and come. Every few years, a new federal posse comitatus is organized in Washington. Like Butch and Sundance, we look down the mountain over our shoulders and wonder aloud, “Who are those guys, anyway?”
Former FCC Chairman William Kennard split in January. Commissioners Susan P. Ness and Harold W. Furchtgott-Roth now leave for greener pastures. Current Chairman Michael K. Powell has “re-upped” through June 2007. Commissioner Gloria Tristani’s term does not end until June 2003, but the buzz is that she will depart early to seek political office in her home state of New Mexico.
Two people do not a commission make, so President Bush has nominated three new posse members. Senate confirmation hearings are pending the FBI’s verification that the names aren’t in their X-files. The three new office doors to paint are: Kathleen Q. Abernathy, Michael J. Copps and Kevin J. Martin. All have telecom backgrounds; so at least the industry won’t have to explain to a former USDA lawyer how radio works.
Abernathy would serve until July 2005. A telecommunications attorney, Abernathy learned the commission’s ropes as a legal advisor to past-Commissioner James H. Quello. In private practice, she served as counsel to BroadBand Office, whose management includes past-Commissioner Rachelle Chong. Abernathy was also a vice president for regulatory affairs at U.S. West. Serving as counsel to AirTouch Communications in the mid-1990s, she filed strong comments with the commission regarding access charge reform and interconnection agreements.
Copps would serve until July 2004. Most recently, Copps was assistant secretary of commerce for trade development. Prior to posts at DOC, he was chief of staff for South Carolina Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, the ranking democrat on the Senate telecom subcommittee. Copps should know intimate details of the legislative history of the Telecommunications Act. (For all we know, he may have written part of it.) Copps championed Clinton administration causes such as bridging the “Digital Divide” and promoting e-commerce.
Martin would serve until July 2006. Martin, like Abernathy, was once on the commission staff, serving Furchtgott-Roth as a legal advisor. The only obvious “reward-appointee,” Martin left the FCC to join the Bush-Cheney election campaign as deputy general counsel. In private practice prior to his FCC work, Martin, a telecommunications attorney, dealt with broadcast ownership, spectrum auctions, microwave relocation, RBOCs, interconnection and universal service.
So, these seem like pleasant, competent people who should work well with the incumbents. Will things change much? Doubtful. The posse has new leaders, but the local sheriffs remain the same. Regulation in Washington is not a top-down process, no matter what the press releases say. Items attracting the commission’s attention will be those of interest to the bureau chiefs, office directors and staff. Those offices are the trenches where the communications industry will have to continue to scuffle to get spectrum and technical needs addressed. However, the new faces on the commission should make great speakers at trade association meetings.