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Two take seats

FCC Chairman Michael Powell swore in two members of the FCC's new lineup last week, while the remaining new commissioner's posting was mired in bungled paperwork.

Republican Kathleen Abernathy and Democrat Michael Copps took the oath of office May 31 in separate ceremonies in Powell's office.

"To be an active participant in the deliberations of the FCC as the telecommunications revolution transforms our lives and remakes our world is a real privilege," said Copps following his induction. Abernathy said she felt "a particular sense of pride and responsibility" to be named to her post after having served as an adviser to former commissioners Sherrie Marshall and James Quello.

A top priority on their mass-media and cable agendas will be getting up to speed on Fox Television's pending $5.4 billion acquisition of Chris-Craft Inc. and its 10-station TV group. The deal has been stalled, thanks to a 2-2 split along party lines of the previous commission. Unfortunately for the companies, a miscue with the confirmation of incoming Republican Kevin Martin may further delay approval.

The previous Republican lineup, including Powell, wanted the deal approved on condition that Fox parent News Corp. be required sell the New York Post
only if the agency upholds the ban on crossownership of TV stations and newspapers in the same market.

Abernathy said last week that she's educating herself on the deal now, but she wouldn't say how she's leaning. "The FCC should move on it, but that's all I can say."

Following her swearing-in, Abernathy's private-sector experience was on display when she pledged to serve her "customers," who, she explained, include citizens, industry, trade and consumer groups and state telecommunications regulators. "I truly value input from all sectors of my customer base," said the former lobbyist for BroadBand Office Inc., US West and AirTouch Communications.

As for her overall regulatory philosophy, Abernathy said the agency should be doubly careful to make sure government rules don't slow technological development. "I don't want to prevent or delay new products and services from reaching consumers."

The Fox/Chris-Craft deal, which awaits approval well beyond the FCC's self-imposed 180-day review deadline, is controversial because News Corp. already has an FCC waiver allowing it to own WNYW(TV) New York and the Post. The Chris-Craft deal would add WWOR-TV to its Big Apple stable. And regulators won't extend the existing waiver to a TV duopoly.

The FCC is expected to consider dropping the newspaper crossownership ban this summer, but that decision won't come for more than a year.

Democrats on the previous panel, Commissioner Gloria Tristani and former Commissioner Susan Ness, pushed for a specific divestiture date that would have obligated News Corp. to sell the Post
regardless of the crossownership review's outcome.

Like Abernathy, Copps wouldn't say how he was leaning on the deal, but it's conceivable that, without Martin's vote, the Republican Powell may face another 2-2 party-line deadlock. Of the incoming commissioners, Martin, who served as an aide to former Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth and in the Bush presidential campaign, is viewed as the most opposed to ownership regulations.

Like his rookie colleagues, Copps and Abernathy, Martin received Senate confirmation May 25. He was expected to take the vacant seat of former agency chairman William Kennard with them but, unfortunately, was approved only for his seat's next five-year term, which doesn't begin until July 1. For Martin to take the seat before then, he will need a second appointment to finish out Kennard's unexpired term. The most likely option for getting Martin on board before the end of June is a temporary recess appointment by the White House, which doesn't require Senate confirmation.

Copps had not yet begun picking his staff late last week.

Abernathy named Bryan Tramont as senior legal adviser. Tramont previously served in the same capacity and as wireless adviser for Republican Harold Furchtgott-Roth. Other permanent additions to her staff will be named by the end of this week.

Tramont served five years as an attorney at Washington law firm Wiley Rein and Fielding. The Missouri native also worked as a law clerk at his home state's Supreme Court. He is a graduate of George Washington University and Yale Law School.