GOP calls on youth to log on at FCC

WASHINGTON — The new Republican leadership at the Federal Communications Commission is shaping up to be downright baby-faced.

FCC topper Michael Powell just turned 38. Republican pick for commish Kevin Martin is a mere 34, while President Bush’s other Republican nominee, Kathleen Abernathy, is 44.

On May 17, the new FCC gang showed up for their Senate confirmation hearing, an out-and-out love fest. Powell must have been relieved to finally get the ball rolling. Until Abernathy and Martin are installed on the five-seat commission, he has no Republican majority, so he’s had to cool his jets.

Tech savvy

Youth has many advantages. Chances are good that the new GOP crew won’t be technophobic, a salient point as today’s FCC oversees the media world in the digital age.

(Last summer, at a public hearing on the AOL Time Warner merger, more than one commish revealed ignorance about the popular technology known as Instant Messaging.) Hollywood lobbyists are roundly applauding Bush’s FCC picks.

“They have an awareness of technology because they’ve grown up with it,” one Hollywood lobbyist said.

Outgoing Republican Harold Furchtgott-Roth is 44 and outgoing Democrat Susan Ness is 52. Former FCC topper William Kennard, who exited the post in January, was 44. Incumbent Democratic commish Gloria Tristani, who will remain, is 47. The other Democratic seat will be occupied by nominee Michael Copps, who is 61.

In contrast, Martin and Powell haven’t even hit that dreaded 40-year mark.

Question of experience

Too much youth can also be a curse, particularly in rough-and-tumble Washington. Will Martin be able to trust his own judgment, or will he have one or two silent mentors on the side?

Powell has a certain advantage that Martin doesn’t: He looks older than his age, with most guessing that he’s in his mid-40s. As the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, he commands immediate respect in any given situation.

Martin and Powell have roughly the same level of experience.

Prior to becoming FCC chair, Powell served three years as an FCC commish. Before that, he worked in the Dept. of Justice antitrust division for a little under a year.

Most recently, Martin worked on President Bush’s transition team — an experience handy to have on a resume. Previously, Martin was a legal adviser to commish Furchtgott-Roth and before that was a law associate for top telco attorney Dick Wiley.

Abernathy, also an attorney, beats out both Martin and Powell in terms of sheer experience — not hard to do as she’s a bit older. Like them, she’s done stints as an FCC staffer. She’s worked for several telco companies and, most recently, for a broadband venture.

Copps is a former aide to Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and a former Commerce Dept. staffer.

Media/entertainment execs are eager to have the new FCC in place so that the commission can begin to enact the GOP’s deregulation agenda.

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