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The Federal Communication Commission’s leading critic of media mergers is resigning effective Sept. 7. Commissioner Gloria Tristani, a Democrat President Clinton appointed in 1997, said she plans to return to her home state of New Mexico. Though she declined to comment on her plans, Tristani is widely expected to run for the U.S. Senate. Tristani’s departure leaves three Republicans and one Democrat among the remaining commissioners, including FCC chairman Michael Powell. Consumer activists said Aug. 27 they are concerned Tristani’s departure will open the door for further consolidation in the telecommunications market. That’s because Powell outlined in the News Corp.-Chris Craft Industries Inc. merger a narrow view of the agency’s public interest standard, which all mergers must meet to win approval. “Mike Powell’s philosophy will now go unchecked at the FCC,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “Gloria was the only person up there to say that the emperor chairman has no public interest clothes.” Though Tristani lacked the votes to stop mergers, she could delay consideration of deals for months by raising questions regarding transactions. The vote on the News Corp.-Chris Craft deal, for instance, was delayed for several months partially because of Tristani’s objections. Andrew Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, said he hopes Commissioner Michael J. Copps, a former aide to Sen. Ernest Hollings who recently filled the other Democratic FCC slot, will be outspoken on mergers. “He has signaled that he intends to be a forceful player on media concentration,” Schwartzman said, noting that Copps joined Tristani in dissenting on the Fox-Chris Craft merger. President Bush must choose a Democrat to replace Tristani. By law, no more than three commissioners may be of the same political party as the president. As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Hollings, D-S.C., is expected to have significant control over the appointment. Still, the eventual nominee is unlikely to be as outspoken on mergers as Tristani. A Hollings spokesman declined to comment. In what some observers might construe as a veiled dig at Powell, Tristani ended the statement announcing her departure with a comment on the importance of the FCC’s public interest standard, a legal requirement that the agency only approve license transfers that benefit the public. Powell has argued that the standard is met if a deal technically complies with all FCC rules, while Tristani has advocated a separate evaluation of whether a transaction benefits consumers. “The FCC is entrusted with enhancing communications for all Americans, and I will always value the agency’s core mission: to serve the public interest,” Tristani said in the statement. Tristani declined further comment. Powell issued a statement Monday praising Tristani’s efforts to bring telecommunications services to underserved areas of the country and her advocacy of the v-chip, which lets parents block programs they do not want their children to watch. He made no mention of their disagreement on media mergers. A source close to Tristani said her departure is not related to the loss of a Democratic majority at the agency. “For a long time she has said she wanted to return to New Mexico by 2001,” the source said. Tristani reportedly tried to resign last year, but relented after a plea from Vice President Al Gore that her departure would rob then-FCC Chairman William Kennard of a Democratic majority. Copyright (c)2001 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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