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FCC in transition after Hundt

The Net community will be wise to watch as the Senate holds confirmation hearings to fill open seats at the Federal Communications Commission.

The Internet community will be wise to watch today and tomorrow as the Senate holds confirmation hearings to fill four out of five open commissioner seats at the Federal Communications Commission.

Recently, the FCC has been highly active in Net, wireless, and digital TV issues. For example, the agency allocated up to $2.25 billion a year to subsidize Net access for disadvantaged schools and libraries earlier this year. In addition, it rejected proposed access fees for Internet service providers, although it levied new charges for businesses and residences with second phone lines.

Many who have a stake in information technology were behind FCC chairman Reed Hundt, who announced his resignation in May after leading implementations of new, high-tech policies.

Depending on who lands the FCC slots, the White House and Congress could have an opportunity to change the focus of the agency that regulates communications such as broadcasting, cable, satellite, and cellular communications.

Today, the Senate Commerce Committee will consider the nominations of Michael Powell, who is the chief of staff for the Justice Department's antitrust divisions; Harold Furchtgott-Roth, the chief economist for the House Commerce Committee, which is responsible for telecommunications; and Gloria Tristani, an elected member of the New Mexico State Corporation Commission.

Tomorrow, it will weigh the nomination of William Kennard, who is currently the FCC's general counsel. He was named by Clinton for an empty commissioner's seat in May and has been designated as the administration's choice for chairman. (See related story)

Powell and Furchtgott-Roth were initially nominated by the Senate Republicans and approved by Clinton. Tristani and Kennard were nominated by the president.