Jonathan Adelstein was confirmed last week to fill the fifth and final open FCC seat, but the spotlight may move quickly to potential swing vote Kevin Martin.
Adelstein's nomination will provide a deadlock-breaking vote on several key telecom issues, including revisions to cable carriage rules for digital TV stations, which have been stalled at the commission since August.
Although Adelstein has followed protocol for pending nominees by declining to comment on specific industry issues, his close ties to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) suggest to many that he will be a close ally of fellow commission Democrat Michael Copps.
If the two cooperate to oppose Chairman Michael Powell's deregulatory moves, the attention may soon turn to Kevin Martin, an independent-minded GOP member of the panel.
Martin has not been shy about dissenting from Powell on key decisions and may use the threat of an alliance with the Democrats to move things his way."Martin is in the position of swing vote if Copps and Adelstein team up," said one industry source.Media Access Project President Andrew Schwartzman says Martin's potential influence is overestimated. Although Republican Kathleen Abernathy has typically voted with Powell, he says, she has shown more independence on several of the more complex issues stalled by the lack of a three-vote majority. "We may well see a situation where, on a particular issue, any commissioner could be the swing vote."
Schwartzman also predicts that Adelstein, like Copps, will successfully temper commission decisions he doesn't like, rather than simply dissent. "Both come out of the legislative arena and have found ways to get things done."
Public advocates predict that Adelstein and Copps together will be a stronger voice of resistance to additional industry deregulation. "The public now has an opportunity to see the real differences between the market approach of FCC Chairman Powell and those who believe that the electronic media should be required to serve as well as it can sell," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.While Adelstein's views are still an open book, the industry groups that will soon be lobbying him were gushing with praise last week. "We're delighted that he has been confirmed," said National Association of Broadcasters President Eddie Fritts. "Jonathan's background in public service and his firm grasp of broadcasting and telecommunications issues will serve him well."
Said Walter McCormick Jr., president of the U.S. Telecom Association, "His appreciation for the challenges facing rural communities make him a strong advocate for rural America."
Adelstein's confirmation had been held up in a fight between Daschle and Senate Republican leader Trent Lott over judicial nominations blocked or rejected by Democrats. A particular sore spot was the defeat of Judge Charles Pickering from Lott's home state of Mississippi.
Adelstein is confirmed to serve the balance of former Commissioner Gloria Tristani's term, which expires June 30. Industry sources speculate, however, that he will win a new full, five-year term before his current tenure expires.