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The Federal Communications Commission’s new installment will be a welcome addition for businesses serving rural consumers. None, however, are likely to be as pleased as rural cell phone companies, which have been calling in complaints about consolidation among big wireless telecoms. Republican Deborah Tate, an attorney serving as a director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, is expected to begin her work as an FCC commissioner early next year. Her nomination was pending in the Senate late Thursday, and confirmation to the FCC is expected imminently. At the TRA, Tate helped set rates for phone and other utilities in a state with large swaths of rural territories, and she boasts that she will continue fighting for rural telecom needs when she joins the federal government. “As a sixth-generation Tennessean, with deep roots in the rural part of our state, I am especially interested in issues that affect rural Americans,” Tate said during her nomination hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Dec. 13. Tate would be a second rural advocate at the FCC, joining South Dakotan Jonathan Adelstein. “She has an interest in seeing that the people in rural America get the same services as people in urban areas,” said Tennessee Regulatory Authority chairman Ron Jones. She was appointed to the TRA in 2002 by Gov. Don Sundquist. She has also served on Sundquist’s senior staff and was his designee to the Juvenile Justice Commission and an advisory committee for the state’s health insurance plan for low-income people from 1996 to 2000. Tate, 49, earned B.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of Tennessee. Tate is chairman of the board for Centerstone Inc., the largest mental health provider in the state of Tennessee. She also is the founder and former president of Renewal House, a recovery residence for crack cocaine mothers and their children. The addition of another ally would be particularly good news for small-town wireless providers worried that consolidation, such as the recent $6 billion acquisition of Western Wireless Corp. by Alltel Corp. and Sprint Corp.’s $35 billion purchase of Nextel Communications Inc. to form Sprint Nextel Corp., will threaten their survival. The fear is that, as big providers consolidate and further expand their coverage areas, they will have increasingly less incentive to cut reasonably priced roaming deals with small companies. Small wireless operators had hoped the FCC would, as a condition on the recent deals, require Alltel and Sprint to offer similar roaming contracts to small cell phone companies as they do to the larger national competitors. Instead, the agency did little more than reopen a 5-year-old proceeding examining how small providers should be treated. While that was little consolation for those particular deals, Tate’s addition to the commission at least gives small operators hope the agency may soon adopt a policy encouraging reciprocal roaming agreements. “Given that no conditions were added to the mergers and given the FCC’s decision to introduce this separate proceeding, I expect she will be an active participant and supporter of rural cell-phone interests,” said Paul Afonso, chairman of the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy. Afonso works with Tate on two National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners committees, including the Washington action committee that Tate chairs. And Tate has already formed a strong working relationship with FCC chairman Kevin Martin and other key Washington insiders. Afonso noted that as chair of the Washington committee, Tate spent a great deal of time shuffling between Washington and Tennessee representing state utility issues in the capital. As a result, she is well known and comfortable working with Martin, Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and House Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas. “She has a real rapport with Martin because of her work on the Washington action committee,” Afonso said. Such connections will come in handy as the FCC tackles controversial, sometimes divisive issues next year, said TRA’s Jones. He added that Tate’s experience as a mediator will mesh well with chairman Martin’s efforts to bridge the commission’s partisan divide. “She’s a champion of consensus-building,” Jones said. “She’s been successful at getting parties, during difficult arbitration, to work out their differences and remove contentious issues from the table.” In her testimony, Tate commented on her hopes for cooperation: “I will bring a spirit of consensus and bipartisanship to the commission, a willingness to build on what chairman Martin and the other commissioners have begun at the FCC.” That said, Martin is counting on Tate to be a critical ally on the handful of FCC issues that appear beyond bipartisan compromise. For instance, Martin has been unable to move forward on loosening limits on media mergers, a controversial action opposed by Democrats Adelstein and Michael Copps, until the FCC’s two open GOP seats are filled. Can Martin count on her? Afonso hints that she might not be a solid vote on ownership deregulation because rural communities are concerned about losing local control over TV stations to large media conglomerates. “She will be an eloquent advocate of making sure rural issues don’t get lost in the debate over media consolidation,” Afonso said. Asked by The Daily Deal for her own thoughts on media consolidation, Tate would only say: “Oh I can’t comment on that right now, but would love to talk to you later.” Only time will tell. Copyright �2005 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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