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FCC nominees confirmed

The Senate confirms the nominees to the Federal Communications Commission, despite earlier attempts to stall the vote.

    William Kennard was confirmed as the Federal Communications Commission chairman today, with one lone Republican senator voting against the appointment.

    Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana) tried to stall the vote on four FCC nominees last Friday, but relented yesterday, with the Senate's approval of three new commissioners following.

    The five-member commission is being overhauled with the addition of Michael Powell, now chief of staff of the Justice Department's antitrust division; Harold Furchtgott-Roth, chief economist for the House Commerce Committee; and Gloria Tristani, a member of the New Mexico Corporation Commission.

    Kennard will replace Reed Hundt, with whom he worked closely as legal counsel to the FCC.

    Despite Burns's comments that he had settled some of his reservations about Kennard, the senator still voted against him today. Burns did negotiate for a review of the FCC's policy on universal service, but still wants the agency to revamp telephone and online universal service rates for rural areas. "Mr. Kennard has assured me that he will abide by this review process," Burns said in a statement yesterday.

    Under provisions mandated by last year's federal telecommunications reform, the FCC is required to provide schools and low-income and rural areas with advanced phone and Net services. According to Burns, the current commission's plan has put 75 percent of the governmental burden on states, which he claims could lead to higher phone rates.

    Speaking before the Senate this afternoon, Burns explained his opposition to Kennard's nomination, which is rooted in his dissatisfaction with the current FCC's policy on universal service.

    "While such goals as providing Internet access to schools and libraries may be laudable, they were never meant to be part of universal service as it has traditionally been known," he said today. "The FCC has addressed those goals in a fashion which many believe is detrimental to maintaining universal telephone service--which is so important to me and other members of rural states."

    Reuters contributed to this report.