A 2-1 FCC?

Unbelievably, the vote on confirmation for Deborah Tate (the new Republican replacement for Kathleen Abernathy) and Michael Copps (Dem) (to sit another 5 year term) is delayed. Why? Because Senators act like 6 year olds.

I have now read that Sununu put the hold on both Tate and Copps. I have edited accordingly.

Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV) is unhappy with the current version of the E911 bill. The bill contains a provision drafted by Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) that exempts voice over IP (VOIP) providers from providing E911 services. Sununu feels its unfair to burden new entrants right away with an expensive mandate. But public safety groups very strongly object to this provision.

So Rockefeller placed a “hold” on the E911 Bill. A “hold” is a privilege any Senator can exercise. It is a parlimentary move that prevents an issue from coming to a vote. In retaliation, Sununu has placed a hold on the vote to confirm Deborah Tate and Michael Copps for the FCC Commissioner positions.

Sununu wants Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the Committee Chair, to force a resolution. Sununu says he and Rockefeller are “close” to resolving things. Except that everyone is working on the Patriot Act, Defense Appropriations, ANWR drilling, etc. Until those issues are resolved, staff won’t resolve the differences on E911, which means Rockefeller won’t release his hold, which means Sununu won’t release his hold.

Which means that the FCC, an agency regulating trillions of dollars in economic activity ensuring the free flow of information necessary for the smooth functioning of our Democracy, is on hold.

Under the rules, Copps can continue to sit (despite the fact that his term expired) until the current Congress adjorns at the end of 2006. So the five-member FCC is now 2 Dems and one Republican. Since the one Republican is the Chairman and controls the agenda, big ticket items with real divergences are not coming up for vote. So, sadly for me, no FCC “coup” until the Senate untangles itself. But, on the plus side for me, it means no major business will get done until Tate is confirmed and has a chance to come up to speed.

The biggest loosers in this (and you know how this breaks my heart) are big media companies, especially Comcast, TW and Adelphia. All the big media companies have been waiting for a majority of Republicans so they can try again to relax the media ownership rules (an item that has been technically pending since we won the Prometheus case in June 2004). But the ones who most urgently need an FCC majority (or at least a 2-2 split) are Comcast and Time Warner. There is no way their merger can move forward without Republicans. Given how the Democrats negotiated for conditions on the Verizon-MCI and SBC-AT&T mergers, Comcast and TW really want a solid Republican majority if they have any hope of avoiding major conditions. They also have pressure to get this deal done quickly, as the longer it remains pending, the longer investors and Adelphia’s bankruptcy creditors have to get cold feet.

It is now entirely possible that the Senate will adjourn without voting on Tate and Copps. When they return, they will not only face any leftover legislative business from this session, but the highly anticipated, extremely partisan, knock-down drag-out Alito Confirmation Smackdown. Unbelievably, it becomes possible to imagine the Tate-Copps package held up until February. In which case I can look forward to lots of free time for blogging, as there is no way they can do business with the Dems holding a 2-1 majority.

Or, of course, the Senate could clear it for a vote tomorrow.

stay tuned . . . .

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