Media and telecommunications policy battles could take on a new look now that Democrat Jonathan Adelstein has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve on the Federal Communications Commission.
Adelstein, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), was confirmed Thursday night by voice vote.
His nomination had been held up for months as a result of partisan tension over some of President Bush's nominees for the federal judiciary.
Since the FCC had three Republicans and one Democrat, the arrival of Adelstein won't represent a formal shift in agency power.
But because the Republican majority has been less than cohesive on a number of issues, Adelstein could cast a number of tie-breaking votes.
For example, the FCC has been deadlocked on a number of digital-TV fronts, including whether cable operators in some instances should be required to carry multiple digital-programming streams that are provided free-of-charge by local TV stations.
FCC chairman Michael Powell has opposed a multicasting-carriage mandate on cable.
Adelstein was named to fill the seat vacated by Gloria Tristani, who returned to New Mexico to run for the U.S. Senate. She lost the race Nov. 5 to longtime incumbent Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).
Adelstein's FCC term expires June 30, 2003.
Copps on tour
His fellow commissioner Michael Copps said last week he plans to conduct hearings around the country next year — alone, if necessary — to raise public awareness about pending FCC moves involving media ownership.
Copps, a Democrat, has voiced concern that the Republican-controlled FCC, under chairman Michael Powell, intends to relax ownership rules governing corporate control of cable systems, TV and radio stations, newspapers and TV networks.
The commission is planning to adopt new rules next spring. It is widely expected that the FCC will allow some newspapers and TV stations to combine in the same market and allow TV-station-group owners to expand their reach beyond 35 percent of TV households.
Having failed to convince Powell to hold public forums on media consolidation, Copps said he planned to organize public hearings himself in all regions of the country starting in January.
"I am determined in going ahead. As a commissioner, I can do that," he told reporters Thursday.
Copps described Powell's interest in public hearings as "lukewarm" and "unenthusiastic." He said FCC staff told him public hearings were the equivalent of "foot-stomping" that would delay action.
But Copps said it was possible that other FCC commissioners would end up co-hosting the hearings in order to avoid being left out. Republican commissioner Kevin Martin told reporters last week he would consider supporting public hearings if they did not cause delays.