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McDowell Sails Through Hearing for FCC Seat

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said he would try to hold a vote on confirmation of FCC nominee Robert McDowell March 16.

In a short hearing on the nomination that featured not a discouraging word, McDowell was praised by Senator George Allen (R-Va.), who introduced the nominee ,as a friend and "extraordinarily qualitifed, and by Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) as a "good choice."

Dorgan said he was also glad that the commission would finally have a full complement of five commissioners, saying that its pending review of media ownership rules would have a profound effect on what people would see, hear and read.

McDowell, a native Virginian, invoked the American Revolution in his opening statement, both comparing it to the current communications revolution and saying that he would similarly defend the right of free expression born of that revolution.

McDowell, who comes to the commission from a post at telecom lobby Comptel (member companies include BellSouth for one), said that he had been in discussions with the White House and the FCC’s general counsel's office about possible conflicts and recusal procedures.

He said he would take the appropriate steps when necessary. But he also pointed out that commissioners had come straight from private sector companies without mass recusals and asked that his ability to judge impartially not be prejudged.

McDowell declared himself a friend of the consumer and the markeplace, and a foe of the regulatory underbrush. He also said he would make it a priority to make sure the digital revolution reached every American, including rural and low-income areas, a particular priority of Stevens'.

Republican Gordon Smith of Oregon asked a question in absentia, concerned with cable content negotiations in which baseball game coverage appeared to be held hostage.

Smith said he was becoming "more concerned about a tactic that cable companies are using to limit viewship of sports programming." He cited Cablevision, which he said "stopped broadcast of Yankee games until they got a deal they wanted," and Comcast, which he said had done the same thing in Philadelphia with the Phillies and in Washington with the Nationals.  "How would you address situations like this?," he asked McDowell.

McDowell said it was an important issue and "a personal one, adding "we would like to see some Nationals games." He may have already gotten his wish. Cox has signed a deal to carry the games in Northern Virgina, where McDowell lives. But the nominee said he prefered marketplace solutions. "I would first look to private sector solutions," he said, though he addded there could be "ongoing proceedings or future proceedings that could examine this."