Copps Made Acting FCC Chairman

1/24/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

President Barack Obama last Thursday named Federal Communications Commission Democrat Michael Copps as acting chairman, replacing Kevin Martin two days after he resigned on the final day of the Bush administration.

“I am honored to be designated today as acting chairman of the FCC,” Copps said in a statement. “I thank President Obama for his confidence in me and for this opportunity to serve.”

Copps, 68, joined the FCC in 2001 as a Democratic appointee of President Bush. Over the years, Copps has supported close regulation of the cable industry, voting to impose ownership limits, extend program-access rules and cut leased-access rates to the bone.

He has occasionally spoken out in support of the a la carte sale of cable programming, but not on the same scale as his predecessor, Martin.

The FCC has three commissioners, two Democrats and one Republican. It normally has five commissioners. Under Copps, the FCC could adopt many new regulations with speed.

“I am thrilled to congratulate my good friend and trusted colleague, Michael Copps, on his designation as acting chairman of the FCC,” said fellow Democratic commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, in a prepared statement. “The FCC will benefit from his leadership, experience and abiding commitment to the public interest.”

Obama has chosen longtime friend and technology adviser Julius Genachowski as his permanent FCC chairman, according to people familiar with the matter, but he has not yet announced the post. Moreover, Genachowski would require Senate confirmation. As a confirmed FCC member, Copps did not need Senate approval to become acting chairman. Copps's indicated that he understood the job was his only temporarily.

“I know that I have a truly gifted and terrific team to work with. I pledge every effort I am capable of to help steer the commission through its current transition to new leadership,” Copps said.

FCC Republican member Robert M. McDowell praised Copps's selection.

“I am pleased that President Obama has announced that my friend and colleague, Mike Copps, will serve as acting chairman of the commission. I look forward to continuing to work with him at this unique time,” McDowell said.

NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow, in a statement last Thursday, said: “We congratulate Commissioner Copps on being named acting chairman of the FCC. This is a well-deserved recognition of a distinguished record of public service, and we look forward to continuing to work with chairman Copps and the FCC.”

Copps has to worry about the Feb. 17 transition to digital-only broadcasting. For months, he has been predicting a disaster.

Encouraged by the new Obama administration, Capitol Hill Democrats are trying to pass legislation to postpone the transition until June 12.

Copps also has to deal with legacy disputes left behind by Martin.

Last Thursday, Comcast wrote Copps on his first day in office urging him to return its program-carriage dispute with the NFL Network to an administrative law judge.

Comcast added that it was acting on behalf of three other cable operators facing similar program-carriage complaints that were seized from the ALJ last month by a Media Bureau subordinate to then-FCC chairman Kevin Martin.

“Putting these cases back in the hands of an independent ALJ is the best way to ensure that full and fair hearings are conducted, with appropriate cross-examination of witnesses and assessments of the credibility of witnesses and other evidence,” Comcast's letter said.

An attorney for NFL Network wrote Copps the next day to say that Comcast was “taking advantage of every opportunity to create procedural obstacles and to cause delay.”

The NFL Network lawyer insisted there was “no justification for interrupting the ongoing process before the Media Bureau.”

In October, FCC Media Bureau chief Monica Desai referred the cases to the ALJ for trial. After the ALJ failed to act within 60 days, Desai reclaimed jurisdiction last month. Comcast claims Desai's actions were unlawful and sought a stay from the FCC commissioners. Desai later set a schedule to review the cases.

In the letter to Copps, Comcast urged him to rescind Desai's orders if the FCC is too busy with the digital TV transition to act on Comcast's stay request. Doing that, Comcast said, would return the disputes to the ALJ, who had planned a more thorough trial than the review proposed by Desai.

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