FCC confirmation hearings to focus on competition Telecom act's failure so far is expected to have senators exercised


When William Kennard, President Clinton's nominee for the chairman's post of the FCC, sits down at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, the biggest implicit question may not be his fitness for the job but whom he will listen to in Washington once he gets it.

It is close to a foregone conclusion within the capital's telecommunications fraternity that, absent a bombshell revelation, Kennard and the three other people who have been nominated to the Federal Communications Commission will be approved by the Senate Commerce Committee. As is often the case within the Beltway, the essential politicking over the nominations occurred before they were even announced.

But Kennard's hearing Wednesday, and those tomorrow of the other commission nominees -- Harold Furchtgott-Roth, Michael Powell and Gloria Tristani -- are nonetheless expected to be among the best attended, and most closely watched, confirmation proceedings of the year.

In the wake of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was meant to open most parts of the communications industry to competition, the FCC has become perhaps the most prominent regulatory panel in Washington.

But it is the act's failure so far that is expected to have the senators exercised Wednesday. Nearly 18 months after the act was signed into law, the rich competition that the bill's proponents predicted would emerge in local telephone and cable television markets has not developed. Most Americans live in a world where there is one local telephone company and one cable television provider.

The lawmakers will want to know what Kennard, the FCC's general counsel, intends to do about it. And some may try to influence his thinking.

"I don't think this hearing will be about whether Bill Kennard has the qualifications," said Scott Blake Harris, a former head of the FCC's international bureau. "This will be a hearing where the senators share their concerns about the Telecom Act of 1996."

Kennard declined to be interviewed for this article.

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Commerce Committee, has been a blunt critic of the law, which he says gave the FCC too much power over the entry of companies into new lines of business. Rather than embrace competition, in McCain's view, the FCC has impeded it.

"The telecommunications reform act has been overall a failure," the Arizona Republican said in a telephone interview last week. "We've got rising cable rates, rising long-distance rates, mergers instead of competition, failure of parts of the telecommunications industry to get into others.

"I'd like to see a much less bureaucratic commission, a commission that will implement the telecommunications act so they don't get their actions stayed in court every time."

One of the chief concerns of the Commerce Committee's Republican majority is how Kennard, a Democrat, intends to deal with state regulators.

Pub Date: 9/29/97

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