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FCC commissioner cut out of info loop

One of the nation's top communications regulators charges that the FCC leadership has tried to cut off his access to critical information.

One of the nation's top communications regulators has charged that the Federal Communications Commission's chairman has tried to cut off his access to critical information.

In a letter to key Congressmen late last month, FCC commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth charged that the commission's chairman had blocked requests for information he needs to do his job.

"I must consider all facts and law At the crossroads that I consider relevant to, and thereby assure myself of the correctness of the bureaus' recommendations on, the questions before me," Furchtgott-Roth wrote. "I can not adequately do this when the information flow between the bureaus and my office is stanched."

The complaints have prompted an angry response from at least one influential legislator. In a letter to chairman Kennard yesterday, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) ordered the FCC to stop any attempts at filtering information.

"I realize that there has been an unfortunate trend in recent years for the chairman?to engage in this kind of impermissible attempt at internal information control," McCain wrote to Kennard. "You must abandon this practice, not adopt it."

The spat between the commissioners has been building for several months.

Furchtgott-Roth is by far the most conservative of the five-member body, and has been an outspoken critic of many recent agency decisions. His most recent request for information--asking for a comprehensive list of spectrum license transfers and merger approvals over the past several years--comes as part of a campaign questioning the FCC's right to add its own conditions for approval of pending mergers.

"I fully recognize that my fellow Commissioners and I may, and often do, disagree on the merits of particular issues," he wrote to McCain and the other legislators. "I have no problem with such a divergence of views, provided that it follows a free, full, and fair debate. Such debates are only possible when relevant material is available to all participants, however."

After his most recent information request, the heads of the various FCC staff bureaus said release of the data had to be cleared by Kennard, Furchtgott-Roth complained.

In his own letter to the congressmen involved, Kennard said he had simply been trying to use staff time in the most efficient manner possible.

"My staff has been working with the Bureaus and commissioner Furchtgott-Roth to handle his request," Kennard wrote. "I can assure you his request has not been denied."

But Kennard's response wasn't enough for McCain, who ordered the chairman to produce all the information requested for inspection by the Senate Commerce committee by March 12.

"I have been troubled by the chronic inability of this Commission to do its work in an orderly and timely fashion," McCain wrote yesterday. "Nevertheless, I have found few things more disagreeable, or more troublesome, than this public dispute."

By going public with his complaints, Furchtgott-Roth may have given congressional critics new ammunition in their campaign against the FCC this year.

McCain has said he will scrutinize the commission's actions to open telecommunications markets in a series of hearings this year. Other legislators have said they may even try to scale back the Commission's powers.