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Adelstein: A fate accompli?

Fate has been smiling on Jonathan Adelstein. A legislative assistant to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Adelstein became the go-to guy when the senator was having trouble finding an FCC nominee that suited him and everyone else. Following many battles, Daschle informed the Bush White House that Adelstein was his pick. The White House still has not nominated him, but sources say it will.

Daschle also made sure other senators wouldn't block Adelstein. So far, the only disgruntled senator seems to be Max Baucus (D-S.D.), who had his own choice, Montana Public Utilities Commissioner Bob Rowe.

But Adelstein's good fortune doesn't stop there. He works in Hart 509, Daschle's office, which has been closed since receiving an anthrax-tainted letter Oct. 15. Even though that office was the most contaminated site in the country, shutting down Congress for several days, all Daschle's staffers escaped exposure.

Then there's Adelstein's brother. On Sept. 11, Lt. Col. Dan Adelstein was not at his desk when the plane crashed into the Pentagon. His office was destroyed, but he was across the hall at a meeting, according to Adelstein's father, Stan.

And there was a blessed event: now-7-month-old Adam.

Adelstein's selection to the FCC has been cause for celebration elsewhere, particularly among senators from rural states, including Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). They have been pushing hard to get one of their own at the commission. Adelstein hails from South Dakota—where his 69-year-old father is a Republican state representative and a businessman in Rapid City—and has long experience working on rural telecommunications issues. Those who know him say he will champion rural concerns.

"Jonathan is a great victory for the 'Farm Team,'" says Chris McLean, vice president of National Strategies, a Washington-based consulting firm. McLean had been head of the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service and is well-acquainted with the Farm Team, a powerful group of rural senators led by Dorgan, because McLean was a staffer for two of them. "What distinguishes Jonathan is that he's from the Senate. He knows why people voted for the 1996 Telecommunications Act. He knows what the authors of that landmark legislation expect," McLean says.

Adelstein, who declined to be interviewed citing Daschle policy, has focused on a variety of rural issues, including deploying broadband services in rural areas, providing federal loan guarantees to companies that want to offer local TV service in rural communities, and maintaining universal phone service. He also has been concerned about the transition to digital TV and how that might affect rural populations. And he has been trying to bridge the "digital divide" so that people who live in poor urban neighborhoods or hard-to-reach rural areas aren't left without advanced telecommunications service.

"There's been a fair amount of disappointment since the passage of the telcom act on how rural issues have been implemented," says Greg Rohde, president of Capitol Hill consulting firm, former head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and once a Dorgan staffer. "Jonathan is clearly going to bring that agenda into the FCC."

But those who know Adelstein also say he keeps the broader picture in mind and is always willing to meet and listen.

"He's an honest broker," says David Krone, of Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network and a former lobbyist for AT&T Broadband. "He's someone people can approach and speak to. Everyone will get a fair hearing with him."