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FCCs turnover troubles

Last week's election meltdown indefinitely delayed an answer to the biggest question in Washington's telcom sector. Who will name the next FCC Chairman: Al Gore or George W. Bush?

Early front-runners to replace current Chairman William Kennard during a Gore administration include Kathleen Wallman, a former Clinton White House staffer and FCC common-carrier bureau chief. Wallman, who was Gore's initial pick to replace Reed Hundt in 1997, now heads a telecommunications consulting practice.

Other names in Washington circles include Vice President Gore's domestic-policy adviser, David Beier, and National Telecommunications and Information Agency chief Greg Rhode. Also mentioned are former Gore aides Roy Neel and Greg Simon, but both men are so connected with individual interest groups that they may have a tough time building the wide support needed for conformation. Neel is on leave as head of the U.S. Telecommunications Association, and Simon leads Open Net, an Internet industry group pushing for cable open-access regulations.

If Gore wins, current FCC Chairman William Kennard has said he will stay in his post until his term expires in June, though some in Washington have predicted he will exit as soon as a new Gore pick is confirmed. If Kennard stays on and Commissioner Susan Ness receives an expected temporary appointment during the congressional recess, the Democratic makeup of the commission is likely to stay the same until late 2001.

A Bush victory most likely will lead Kennard to step down in January. Under a Bush administration, Republican Commissioner Michael Powell appears to have his choice of the FCC chairmanship or replacing Joel Klein as head of the Justice Department's antitrust division. He also could be an outside shot as Commerce Secretary, but probably only if his father, Colin Powell, isn't named Secretary of State or some other cabinet post.

Powell supports a deregulatory approach that's been at odds with Kennard's. He likely would continue loosening broadcast-ownership limits. He also has backed tax-credits to help minority owners buy media businesses. Powell also has expressed an interest in letting broadcasters shed many of their public-service obligations if they help fund public stations.

Pat Wood III, Texas Utility Commission chairman, also is expected to win a top Bush administration post. It could be FCC chief.